Distracted driving program for teens comes to Longview

Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:00 am       

By Alex Byrd abyrd@news-journal.com
Longview News-Journal

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A vehicle simulator on Friday taught Longview students about the dangers of driving while texting and while under the influence of alcohol.

St. Mary’s Catholic School Principal Amy Allen and Kilgore College instructor Sheri Burlingame joined forces Friday to host UNITE International’s Arrive Alive tour, a national program that uses a vehicle simulator, videos and active participation to show the dangers of distracted driving.

“I used to text and drive until my friend did his senior year and died after hitting a tree,” UNITE associate Chris Bennet said. “Our whole community in Grand Rapids, Mich., has stood together since then against texting and driving.”

On Friday, students from Longview Christian, Pine Tree, Christian Heritage, St. Mary’s and a local Girl Scouts troop took a break from class to virtually drive a red Chevrolet Camaro, donated for the day by Peters automotive dealership founder Randy Peters.

Rear-end car wrecks are the most common accident that occurs while texting, Bennet said. An average text takes 5-10 seconds to type and if the driver is traveling 75 miles per hour, he or she is covering a quarter of a mile without looking, Bennet said.

At the event, an outside monitor and a television inside both showed a film of post-accident emergency room visits with bloody, brain injuries and broken bones. The other outside monitor showed repeated failed attempts by students to drive with high-tech intoxication lenses and cellphone use.

“I was in driver’s ed and they taught us the same thing about distractions while driving, so I’ve been scared of it ever since,” Longview Christian School student Maggie Hanley said after flinching. “I can’t watch that video, there’s too much blood.”

“Well, there’s a lot of blood when you text and drive,” Burlingame said outside.

Burlingame is the mother of two daughters, one of which is a 17-year-old driver.

“It’s a constant worry that she will text or be injured by someone texting or that’s drunk,” she said.

While standing in line for the simulator, Christian Heritage senior Colton Macdonald talked to a classmate about his August 2013 accident at H.G. Mosley Parkway and Fairmont Street. He was sober and was not texting, but his wreck resulted in one broken vertebrae and a concussion from four car flips.

“This experience today is a good reminder not to drink and drive and even if you don’t, you still need to be careful,” Macdonald said.

“You know what the difference between vehicular manslaughter is when you’re driving drunk or texting?” UNITE Arrive Alive Associate, Jake Azman asked students. “There isn’t one; you’re still going to jail.”

Other consequences of distracted driving for college-approaching students would be the difficulty of applying for federal loans and Pell Grants if charged with possession, DUI or operating under the influence, Azman added.

“Tell your friends not to drink and drive,” he said.