May 6, 2011
Demonstration illustrates hazards of driving while texting, drinking
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Friends watch in amusement as Cortland High School senior Tanesha Sharpsteen does her best on a distracted driver simulator during a demonstration Thursday.
Traveling about 55 mph with a 0.05 percent blood-alcohol content while sending a text message, Kasey Poirier could barely keep his car steady on the highway and crashed after a couple of minutes.
The Cortland High School student stepped up from the inhibited-driving simulator, saying it was not the most realistic driving experience but came pretty close.
“It was more difficult to drive and your reaction time was slow,” he said. “And when you turned the wheel, your reaction time was slow.”
The message to more than 50 students and their parents Thursday was to keep their attention on the road and to put away their cell phones when behind the wheel. School Resource Officer Rob Reyngoudt and state highway safety officials held an open forum at the school aimed to show the hazards of distracted driving, whether by using a phone or having a few drinks of alcohol.
Some students said they learned a useful lesson from the driving simulations and guest speakers.
“Anything could happen, stay alert,” said senior Amber Davis. “People need to be more cautious, a speaker phone is safer.”
It was the first event of its kind at the school and coincided not only with prom weekend, but also the state Senate’s passing legislation Tuesday that allows police to stop drivers for texting while driving just as if drivers were speeding. It carries a $150 fine and two-point penalty on the driver’s license. The legislation has been sent to the state Assembly.
Reyngoudt said toughening penalties for texting while driving was a good idea, especially considering how often teenagers use text messaging wherever they go.
“They overestimate their capabilities to drive (while texting) and they’re so used to it that they think they can handle it,” Reyngoudt said.
Laurie Sickles, who leads the state’s Teen Driver Safety Coalition, said New York officials are aiming to keep parents more informed about the conditions their children face on the road, especially while learning to drive.
“Parents should make sure their children are ready,” Sickles said at the high school forum. “Everybody’s schedules get hectic nowadays and in this fast-paced world it might be easier for parents to say they’ll just check off the number of hours their kids need to drive before a road test.”
The coalition provided the driving simulator for Thursday’s event. The coalition is one of 10 in the United States funded by the National Safety Council and the Allstate Foundation, which is connected to Allstate Insurance.
Parents and students also heard from car crash victim Jacy Good, 24, of Pennsylvania, who lost her parents in a three-vehicle collision caused by a driver who ran a red light while talking on the cell phone. The crash happened while heading home from college graduation in 2008 and claimed the lives of her parents.
Good spent three months recovering and still bears brain damage. She tours schools telling her story.
Her words and the state’s presentation on the safety hazards of distracted driving were riveting to McGraw resident Cathy Ackley, who said she has a 17-year-old daughter at the school driving with a learner’s permit.
“It absolutely made me think,” Ackley said of the presentation. “I’m all about hands-free, I use a Blue Tooth, and now they’re saying not even hands-free.”
Recent studies conducted by American Automobile Association showed any activity that takes the driver’s attention off the road for more than two seconds can double the risk of a crash.
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