O’Hara students learn texting-driving dangers

Cardinal O’Hara senior Nick Steller sends a text message while behind the wheel inside a video simulator that discourages students from texting while driving at the school on Tuesday morning. (Times Staff / ERIC HARTLINE) 


MARPLE — Most people have to learn the hard lessons in life the hard way.

One of the goals of the Unite Arrive Alive Tour is to teach a life-changing lesson in a much easier way. The tour’s latest stop was at Cardinal O’Hara High School Tuesday and featured a driving simulator to show teenagers what can happen when a person drives and texts at the same time.

“I thought it was real and it just felt real,” said senior Christina Manning after taking her turn in the driving and texting simulator. “It was a good learning experience.”

The simulator includes having students sit in a real vehicle and text with their own phones while they are driving. A small TV screen allowed classmates to see how texting while trying to drive affected the vehicle’s direction and stopping ability.

“I feel like this puts you in a position where you can experience what would really happen,” Manning said.

Most of the teen drivers in the simulator hit either a pedestrian or a car in front of them. This time they could hit a reset button, but they know that’s not the case in real life.

“I realized what can happen when you look down for just a second,” said senior Julia DelGrosso. “I think I did everything wrong except hit someone. You don’t realize how much can happen in a second.”

Cardinal O’Hara Assistant Principal for Student Services Kathleen Guyger is the parent of two teenage boys and hears plenty of talk about this relatively new dilemma of texting and driving. So, with financial support from the Cardinal O’Hara Home and School Association, it was decided to bring the Arrive Alive Tour to O’Hara.

“I have witnessed it a lot because I am out in the parking lot when the students drive in in the mornings,” Guyger said. “I think this is something that is pretty prevalent in this age group.”

An informal survey of some students in two morning classes found that each of them had been in a car with someone texting and driving.

“When they are doing it, having an accident or hitting somebody doesn’t cross their mind,” said Arrive Alive instructor Josh Sheehy. “They don’t know the statistics for texting and driving. For every one accident caused by a drunk driver, there are four accidents caused by texting while driving.”

One of the keys to the program, which featured a movie in the school auditorium, is to get teenagers to speak up if they are riding in a vehicle with a driver who is texting.

“I will scold them and tell them to put the phone away,” said senior Nick Familetti. “If I ever have an emergency (while driving) on a text, I will just pull over. It’s not a good thing if you crash your car.”

Another senior, Nick Steller, said the simulator was more effective than watching a movie that shows crashes.

“Usually what you see is a video of what can happen to people and they just try to scare you,” Steller said. “This showed us that it’s pretty much impossible to text and drive safely.”

Steller found that out the hard way in the simulation when Sheehy instructed him to text friends that they were meeting at Johnny’s Chicken.

“I didn’t make it to Johnny’s,” he said.