Driven to distraction

Students shown the dangers of phone use while driving

(Nikki Younk/Daily News photo) FLORENCE HIGH SCHOOL student Kathleen Selden operates a distracted driving simulator Monday that illustrates the difficulty of driving safely while texting or using a smartphone. In the background, from left, are fellow students Joseph Wahlstrom and Jenna Springer.

FLORENCE, Wis. — Florence Junior High and High School students got a chance Monday to experience the dangers of distracted driving in a safe setting during the “It Can Wait” program presented by AT&T, AAA and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Students operated a distracted driving simulator that illustrates the difficulty of driving safely while texting or using a smartphone, along with hearing from several speakers and watching a video that imagined what the lives of two distracted driving victims would have been like if they hadn’t been killed.

“There can’t be enough reminders about the dangers of texting and driving,” Florence driver education instructor Robert Knox said. “Kids need constant reminders it’s not safe.”

Research from AT&T shows 81 percent of people admit to texting while driving, while fewer admit to doing other smartphone activities — such as taking or viewing photos, playing music, e-mailing, using social media sites, searching the internet, watching videos and video chatting — while behind the wheel.

Drivers traveling at a highway speed of 55 mph will cover the length of a football field in seconds, Robyn Gruner of AT&T Wisconsin said. And since traffic is constantly changing, not paying attention for even a short period of time can have drastic consequences, Nick Jarmusz of AAA said.

Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper George Negron told students he has seen far too many accidents caused by all types of distracted driving, including a recent incident in which an all-terrain vehicle driver who turned his head for a split second crashed, ejecting a passenger.

If drivers must use their cell phones, Negron urges them to pull over to the side of the roadway. Wisconsin banned texting while driving in 2010.

Presenters encouraged students to go to www.itcanwait.com and take the pledge to not engage in distracted driving.

Nikki Younk can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 41, or nyounk@ironmountaindailynews.com.