By JEROD CLAPP
While stopped at a stop sign earlier this summer, Kynan Jarrett took a moment to send a text message to a friend.
Taking longer than he realized, a car horn honked behind him, jarring his focus and causing him to slip up while trying to shift his car into gear.
“I just can’t focus on that many things at once,” Jarrett, a senior at Our Lady of Providence Junior-Senior High School said. “It’s probably one of the more dangerous things I’ve ever done.”
Jarrett’s experience underscored the central theme of a visit to Providence on Wednesday from two state officials emphasizing the dangers of texting and driving. As part of AT&T’s campaign against the practice, state Attorney General Greg Zoeller and U.S. Rep. Todd Young spoke to students about pledging to avoid texting while driving.
Young, R-Ind., said about 100,000 accidents in Indiana are caused by sending and reading messages annually.
“We need to make more people aware of this challenge,” Young said. “It’s seemingly harmless, we know. It’s just a short text message. But sometimes, there are gruesome, horrid results as a result of texting while driving. No message is so urgent, I would venture to say, that it’s worth the risk one takes when texting while driving.”
Zoeller said it was important for students to remember the responsibility they take behind the wheel. He said it goes beyond them, but extends to others in their car or on the road.
“You really have to take responsibility for all the others,” Zoeller said. “You’re driving, essentially, a two-ton steel weapon, and you’ve got to be careful.”
Students also got the chance to try a driving simulator with a cell phone. They had to read and answer texts while driving.
Kinsey Loi, a junior, watched several of her friends try. Even though she knew when a car would come from the left suddenly, she met the same fate as her friends because she was responding to a text message.
“It’s very distracting,” Loi said. “You just don’t know where you’re going, what’s in front of you or if there’s another car coming. You don’t have time to react with the phone in your hand.”
Steve Boyce, AT&T director of legislative affairs, said he thinks the simulator gives students a good idea of what it’s like to try to drive with a phone in their hands.
“It takes all of your skills that you need to be a good driver and focuses all of them on texting,” Boyce said. “They think it’s interesting, it kind of highlights what they already know, but it plays like a videogame and generates discussion.”
Zoeller said with everyone talking to students, they really had to take the responsibility upon themselves to make a difference.
“All these leaders will talk about what you should and shouldn’t do,” Zoeller said. “That’s not going to make any difference. You all have to be the leaders among your friends and you peers. You have to be the ones to remind your friends to not drive and text.”