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Sgt. Shawn Bear, a postal clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, and a Bakersfield, Calif., native, crashes while trying to send a text message in a driving simulator aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 10. The simulator was part of a class to bring awareness to the dangers of texting and driving held by AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

Sending… sending… crash

14 Jan 2013 | Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Driving while distracted now takes the lead over driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and breaking the laws of the road for leading cause of fatal car accidents in the United States.

The most deadly distraction from driving is one that many would not believe; texting.

Fortunately, campaigns such as AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign are spreading the word in hopes of curbing growing numbers. The campaign gave a class to Marines aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 10.
The class included an informational video and a driving simulator that shows how easy it is to get pulled over or cause a car accident while texting.

The simulator, similar to a video game, is an eight city-block course in which drivers must navigate while responding to texts on a cell phone connected to the game. The drivers must look out for hazards such as cones, parked cars and unpredictable drivers. The simulator monitors the drivers speed and whether or not they are staying in their lane.
In the simulator, drivers can be pulled over by police officers or crash into vehicles, sidewalks or buildings causing them to fail.

“You wouldn’t think that it’s a big deal [because so many people do it],” said Sgt. Shawn Bear, a postal clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, and a Bakersfield, Calif., native. “But, when you do it in the simulator, and you try your best to concentrate driving, you can see how bad you’re doing when you text.”

On average, a text message distracts a driver’s eyes for five seconds. If a driver does 50 mph, they would cover the distance of a football field before they looked back to the road.

“We all know it’s bad to drive under the influence, because your judgment is impaired and your vision is impaired,” said John Osborne, director of external affairs with AT&T. “But, when you’re texting, you’re taking your eyes off the road completely.”

People who text while driving are 23 times more likely to get into a car accident than those who do not. With 75 percent of teens saying that texting while driving is a common thing amongst their friends, this is a continually growing problem, especially among young drivers.

There are ways to prevent such mishaps, including applications for phones that can be turned on while driving to respond automatically to texts or using a passenger to read and send messages.

People do not always believe sending messages can be potentially life threatening while driving. The simulator puts the startling statistics into perspective for users.

“We are thrilled to have the simulator,” said Osborne. “It gives people the chance to try it safely and see the consequences of texting while driving.”

More than 100,000 automobile crashes involve texting while driving each year. As more and more people start texting, AT&T hopes to spread the word about the dangers of texting and ask each person who attends a class to take a pledge. The pledge states that nothing on a cell phone is worth risking lives and safety of anyone on the road and that the knowledge would be passed to spread awareness.

“I am going to do my best to not do it anymore,” said Bear. “It’s serious; someone could lose their life.”