MIDVALE — More than a hundred student drivers at Hillcrest High School got an eye-opening lesson in the dangers of texting while driving.
AT&T's new virtual reality experience simulates the potentially deadly consequences of glancing at a cellphone while driving. The students who tried it out for 2 minutes Tuesday said it really drove the message home.
Kade Griffel, a sophomore at the school, has been driving on a learners permit nearly a year and gets his license in a month. He went through the simulator and said, “it felt really real.”
The students drove through neighborhoods, past schools and on the freeway while receiving a lot of texts.
"Every time I went to pick up the phone, I looked at it and then at the last second I noted that there was somebody there, that there was a car there, or that I was about to hit somebody, it felt real,” Griffel said.
Griffel thinks this lesson will flash through his mind when it matters.
"Even the second that I go to look at my phone, I'll think of this simulator,” Griffel said.
He said he puts his phone away when he gets in the car, either in the side of the door or in his pocket.
“I don’t really notice it when I’m driving because I’m busy focusing on other things,” he said.
Alexa Silva, also a sophomore, will soon have her license.
"I learned that I shouldn't be texting and driving, or I might someday hit someone and get in a really bad accident," she said.
Cellphones and passengers are the top two reasons for all distracted driving crashes. And drivers ages 15–19 have the highest rates of driver distraction crashes, according to the Highway Safety Office.
According to a study by the University of Utah, if someone is texting while driving, they are just as dangerous as someone who is intoxicated at double the legal alcohol limit. If they are talking on their cellphone, even hands-free, they are as dangerous as a drunken driver.
Hillcrest High School Principal Gregory Leavitt tried the simulator. In a society caught up in a fast-paced, social media world of instant communication, he said, the simulator brought a real important message to the students.
“It’s valuable for this age,” Leavitt said. “But, it’s valuable for any age.”
Chris Johnson, the AT&T tour spokesman, said distracted driving is an epidemic.
The tour let everyone know that distracted driving is never OK, with a campaign called, “It can wait.”
"When you hear your phone ding, it can wait. It's not worth your life or somebody else's life,” Johnson said.
Each of the students who did the driving simulator also signed an "It can wait" pledge.
The two-minute simulation “can change somebody’s behavior for the better,” Johnson said. “Where they knowingly go, ‘When I get in the car, I’m not gonna do it anymore.’”
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc