Driver ed battles texting obsession
'Both hands on the wheel' tough sell for cell generation
Never before have inattentive drivers had a distraction like this.
Texting while behind the wheel has made our roads less safe, especially when you consider that inexperienced teenage drivers are doing most of the clicking. So, driver safety instructors are stepping up efforts to combat the trend.
"It's a big problem," said Prince Boparai, who operates United Driving School on Calhoun Road in Brookfield. The school draws many of its students from the Elm Grove and Brookfield area.
"It's gotten to the point where we've started an exercise where we have the kids doing simple things, like trying to walk in a straight line, while they're texting. They'll realize it's not so easy. If that's the case, how can you be texting while driving a car?
"We're also going to get a new driving game that simulates what it's like to operate a car while texting. We've got to get the point across," he said.
Message getting stronger
Elm Grove's Gabbi Zierath, a 16-year-old enrolled in the class, said the exercises have been eye-openers.
"They showed us how hard it is to multitask," she said. "Our instructor would send us a text message while we were doing a math problem or riding on a bike, and we'd have to answer. I didn't think it would be that hard; actually, it really was."
Instructors aren't the only ones laying down the law. The state is bringing down the hammer, too, making texting while driving illegal starting Dec. 1.
Wisconsin is the 25th state to pass such legislation, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Penalties for sending text messages while driving will range from $20 to $400 - the same as for inattentive driving.
Beyond a ticket, Boparai hopes these alarming facts about the risks of texting will help get kids' attention:
• Eighty percent of all accidents are the result of being distracted.
• Texting raises the likelihood of getting into an accident by 23 times.
• A car travels 100 feet per second at 60 mph, so if a driver glances away to text for just five seconds while driving at that speed, he or she has just traveled 500 feet with their eyes off the road.
Some will take the risk
Even more convincing, Zierath said, were the graphic photos of texting-related crashes shown to her class.
"They were very scary," she said. "People die because of this."
As a result, Zierath said, texting while driving will be something she'll avoid, but she adds that not all her peers are convinced.
"No, I won't do that," she said, "but I think it's split. Some won't do it, but others will take the risk."
Meanwhile, Boparai is not only fighting the idea of texting on the road, but in his classroom - it happens even when the topic is inattentive driving.
"Yeah, it happens," he said. "The kids just can't seem to do without their text messages.
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