By JEROD CLAPP
CHARLESTOWN — An iPhone in one hand and a steering wheel in the other spelled disaster for several drivers at Charlestown Middle School on Tuesday.
Texting and driving simulators, along with drunk goggles and other exercises, showed students the dangers of distracted and drunken driving with Indiana Students Against Destructive Decisions on Tuesday.
Geoff Grow, state director for Indiana SADD, said giving students a chance to see what distracted driving is like before they legally get behind the wheel may discourage them from taking the risk.
He said the top killer of teenagers is car crashes. If they’re texting while driving, he said they’re 23 times more likely to have a crash than if they’re not texting.
“Even before they get their license, they find themselves in that category,” Grow said. “Most of the students have never been intoxicated or had the opportunity to text and drive, so it gives them perspective on how tough it is.”
Tyrah Martin, an eighth-grader at the school, watched several students try to text and drive on the simulator. As soon as they got on the highway and picked up the phone, some of them ran into other cars or completely off the road.
Martin said she knows people who text and drive and has seen the effects first-hand.
“I’ve seen my mom text and drive,” Martin said. “She swerves and even my stepmom does it. I usually say ‘can you drive, please?’”
Nikki Snow, guidance counselor, said even though middle-school students aren’t at driving age, it’s important for them to learn about the dangers of texting and drinking while driving.
“I think the sooner they learn the dangers, the better,” Snow said. “Maybe they can influence others who are driving and they’ll remember this experience pretty well.”
But she said she knows how tempting it is to answer a text when the ringtone sounds in the car.
“You feel like you can read it quickly,” Snow said. “You think you are just going to scan it for a few seconds, but then you’ll probably want to respond.”
She said it was a habit she had, but one she’s broken.
“I used to do it, but not anymore since we’ve had SADD here,” Snow said. “I would be a hypocrite if I still told them not to do it and I text on my way home from school. I’ve realized it is dangerous.”
But students got to try out other simulations, too. Jeremiah Mikel, a seventh-grader, put on goggles that simulated a blood alcohol level of .25 and tried to run, then drive a motorized cart.
“I knew I couldn’t [before I started],” Mikel said. “I can’t drive a truck very well. It’s hard enough to drive without any goggles on.”
Martin said she’ll be ready to start driver’s education in a year or so. In the meantime, she said she’s already got a plan to keep her from picking up her phone while driving.
“I’ll probably turn my phone off until I get home or put it on silent or something so I won’t wreck,” Martin said.