While fellow students watch a monitor nearby, St. Clair High School student Guy Hopper tries to text on his cellphone while using a virtual reality driving simulator near the SCHS breezeway earlier this week. 

It took only a few seconds earlier this week for some teenagers to realize just how potentially dangerous it is to text and drive.

An AT&T simulator was brought to St. Clair High School on Monday that showed students firsthand what quickly can happen when individuals drive and also use their cellphones to text. Dozens of students got behind the wheel of the in-car virtual reality simulator over the course of the day, and the results were just about the same for all of them.

“It’s not cool to text and drive,” St. Clair Fire Protection District firefighter Dan Cooley told students assembled near the simulator under the breezeway during a morning session. “I don’t ever want to see you guys on the side of the road upside down in a ditch after being involved in any kind of accident. We’re tired of seeing you kids get injured because of a senseless activity. And texting while driving is a senseless activity.”

The local fire district, St. Clair R-XIII School District and AT&T brought the simulator to SCHS for the day.


The message was clear: When it comes to texting and driving, it can wait.

“A text can wait. This message can’t,” AT&T Missouri President John Sondag said in a press release. “In the United States, someone is killed or injured once every five minutes on average in a crash that happens while a driver is texting and driving.”

While their peers watched a screen that followed a vehicle’s progress, students got inside a car hooked up to the simulator, which included a helmet used to detect movement. The simulator provided real-life driving scenarios. When the teens started texting, most either ran off the road, weaved over the centerline, exceeded the speed limit, crashed, hit someone or a combination of some or all of the above.

A teacher who tried the simulation struck and killed a pedestrian.

“We’re really passionate about keeping our young people safe,” Cooley said while the simulator was being used. “We’re here to increase awareness of the dangers of texting while driving. With the help of the school district and AT&T, the fire district is taking the lead on this as part of our fire education program for older kids.”

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Research information distributed through AT&T states that texting is the top mode of communication for teenagers, who text on average 60 times a day. Forty-three percent of teens surveyed say they text and drive.

“One text takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds,” the information stated. “At 55 mph, that’s driving the length of a football field completely blind.”

When Cooley asked a large group of SCHS students who will admit to texting while driving, many of them raised their hands.

As part of the educational experience, Cooley also asked students to sign a pledge not to do it anymore.

“We hope you understand the severity of this,” he told one group of students. “Please do not text and drive.”

St. Clair resident Amanda Jobe, who works for AT&T corporate offices in St. Louis, also was at SCHS for the day helping with the simulation.

AT&T’s information states that the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Communications Commission and more than 140 other organizations have joined the wireless provider to tackle texting and driving, “a dangerous practice that puts millions of Americans at risk.”

One of the goals of the program is to make texting while driving as unacceptable as drinking while driving.

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