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Students Learn That Texting Can Wait 

Harborfields senior Andrew Widmer, 17, tries to respond to a text while driving a 3D simulator provided by A T&T Wireless as part of their “It Can Wait” campaign.

Before last Thursday, Harborfields High School senior Kristen Kelly said she would rarely send text messages while driving, using her phone instead to change songs from behind the wheel.

After Kelly got into an “accident” just two minutes into taking a driving simulator test at Harborfields High School, the 17-year-old vowed she would never text and drive again.

For the second year in a row last Thursday, the front entrance of Harborfields High School was used as a platform where educators, law enforcement and fire department officials as well as students advocated for safer driving behaviors, particularly among teenagers and young adults.

This year, A&T representatives who spearheaded the “It Can Wait” campaign against texting and driving brought along a three-dimensional simulator that takes the driver through several city blocks. While “driving,” the student receives text messages on a smartphone attached to the simulator. The student driver tries to respond to the text message and adhere to normal traffic laws, but in most cases they crash or get pulled over anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes into the exercise.

“Before this [simulator] I thought that maybe I can get away with it [texting and driving] but now I realize it can be dangerous,” Kelly said.

Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) orchestrated the event at Harborfields in hopes of sending a “loud and clear message” about the hazards of distracted driving. He said raising awareness on the issue is one of the first steps toward progress.

“This is so important because when you look at it, a problem with younger people is that there’s always a sense that ‘it can’t happen to me,’ and driving is something we do almost reflexively. We are all susceptible,” Spencer said.

According to Marissa Shorenstein, president of the New York AT&T office, over 330,000 people have downloaded a “drive mode” smartphone application that will send an automated message to someone who texts you when you are behind the wheel. More than 2.5 million drivers across the country have taken a formal AT&T pledge promising not to text and drive. Other wireless phone carriers, including Verizon and Sprint, have also joined the awareness campaign.

“It’s a great thing for teens who are just learning how to drive and may not realize the potential danger they’re putting themselves into,” Shorenstein said.

Those who spoke at the Sept. 13 presentation shared eye-opening statistics about the dangers of distracted driving.

Shorenstein said the average teenager is five times more likely to text than adults. Patricia Bishop Kelly, from the Suffolk County Board of Health, said 77 percent of kids see their parents text and drive.

“This is about prevention… We need to demoralize the behavior, and children will respond when they see their parents change their behavior,” Bishop Kelly said.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in 2011, 385 people died in crashes in which at least one of the drivers was using a cell phone, making up 12 percent of total distracted driving deaths. Eleven percent of all drivers 15-19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of the accident and 21 percent of those crashes involved the use of a cell phone.

Sam Axelrod, a 17-year-old senior at Harborfields, got pulled over within two minutes of the simulation exercise after a car made an illegal U-turn and Axelrod crashed into him.

“I never text and drive. When you’re looking down at your phone, you’re focusing on your phone and not the road,” Axelrod said.

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