Teens learn not to text and drive
Park Ridge Police Officer Laura Kappler (far left,) can't bear to look as Maine East High School student, 17-year-old Billy Kounelis of Niles, crashes while trying out the texting while driving a simulator. | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:11AM
PARK RIDGE —In less than five minutes, William Herr narrowly missed colliding with a deer, nearly took down a pedestrian, drove in the wrong lane and blew past a stop sign before being pulled over by police.
He was also busy trying to reply to a flurry of text messages.
“It was difficult to focus on texting and how far away you were from the stoplight and the stop sign,” the Maine East High School senior acknowledged.
Luckily, Herr wasn’t driving an actual car. He was participating in a computer-simulated, but realistic, exercise aimed at showing drivers just how distracting — and potentially dangerous — texting behind the wheel can be.
The demonstration took place Sept. 19 during lunch periods in the Maine East cafeteria and was organized by the Park Ridge Police Department in recognition of anti-texting campaign launched by AT&T. The software was provided by AAA and the only cost to the department was the rubber thumb rings students received for signing a no-texting pledge and trying out the simulator.
There wasn’t a shortage of participants eager to take the steering wheel. Groups of students, largely comprised of teenage boys, crowded around excitedly to watch their friends maneuver a video game-like course while sending and receiving text messages using a computer mouse and on-screen keypad.
The simulator featured the voice of a “passenger” instructing the driver where to go and whom to text and recorded all traffic violations. If a police car with flashing lights appeared or an accident occurred, the session ended.
“If we can get the message to one kid who will never (text and drive) then it’s a success,” Maine East School Resource Officer Jeff Waddell said of the initiative. “But hopefully, we can get more.”
For Herr, texting while driving is not something he’s interested in anyway.
“I think it’s stressful enough to just drive, let alone do things added to that,” he said.
Senior Simon Bazile, of Niles, had his driving session end abruptly after he started to send a text message and struck a frolicking deer head-on, much to the amusement of his peers.
“I looked at the phone for a second,” Bazile said.
“It was harder than I thought,” added senior Adrian Skorka of Des Plaines. “The phone was a big distraction.”
Senior Christina Giannakopoulos, of Niles, also hit a deer while attempting to text and drive.
“In real life I don’t text. When I drive I close my phone,” she said, insisting, “I don’t drive this bad in real life.”
Several students also acknowledged that having people near them and talking while they attempted to “drive” was also very distracting.
Distracted driving — whether it involves a cell phone, a radio or other passengers in the vehicle — is another danger the Park Ridge Police Department tries to call attention to during such presentations.
Park Ridge Police Officer Julie Genualdi said distracted driving is not unlike driving while intoxicated.
“It’s the new DUI. That’s what we say,” she said.