Students get true-to-life glimpse at dangers of texting while driving

Students, including Janiah McKay, 15, participate in the AT&T texting and driving simulator as part of their "Txtng & Drivng...It Can Wait" public awareness campaign on Friday at Gainesville High School.

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 5:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 5, 2012 at 5:07 p.m.

It only took 10 seconds for Tevonte White to crash the car while texting.

He steered the white Ford Fiesta, traveling at about 40 mph, as he looked down at his cellphone to text a friend. He veered into oncoming traffic.

The monitor showed a cracked windshield, and the 17-year-old took off the virtual reality headset and stepped out of the parked car.

"It was hard to focus on the wheel," he said.

Drivers Ed students at Gainesville High School took part in a simulation on Friday to show the dangers of texting and driving. AT&T sponsored event.

Underneath a tent set up on the school's track, students climbed into a parked car wired to a computer that controlled a simulation. The students would steer the real car down a virtual street lined with parked cars and pedestrians.

"It was wild," said 18-year-old Danni Zinn, after crashing.

MaryRose Sirianni, external affairs manager for AT&T, told students in a short classroom session before using the simulator that it's important for them to realize early on that no text is worth causing a traffic accident.

"You all are at an age when you either change your behavior or develop a bad habit," she said.

Lt. David Lee of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office visited during the activity, noting that he's seen more texting and driving during the past few years with so many high school and college students in Gainesville. Lee added that texting is just part of the problem.

"It's not only texting and driving, but distracted driving," he said.

According to research done by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident while texting, and 75 percent of teens in a survey said texting while driving is "common" among their friends.

Athena Leacock, 17, said she's had a few close calls on the road while texting.

"Especially when I'm in a rush," she said.

April Griffin, chair of the Alachua County School Board, had a chance to use the simulator, after which she told students she thought about how she had checked her email on her phone on the way to GHS that morning.

"I pledge myself to have my cellphone in my purse in the car," Griffin said.

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or

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