Students learn dangers of texting/driving

Published 8:39 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

ASKEWVILLE – It can literally be a matter of life and death.

Last week the high school students at Bethel Christian Academy learned the importance of paying attention when they drive. The teens particularly learned not to text while they are behind the wheel of an automobile.

“It’s gonna be fun,” North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. J.S. Collins told the students as they began the seminar. “We’re going to knock some of the cones over and that’s okay.”

Collins was referring to a road course of traffic cones that lined the parking lot, forming a traffic lane for the NCHP golf cart that included a 360-degree turn and a stop sign.

“Some of you are probably very good at texting,” Sgt. Collins said. “Don’t think that you’re good to do it while driving. You may get away with 100 times, but then the one time you may cross the yellow line, hit someone head on or run off the road and have an accident.”

The students at Bethel then were given the opportunity to drive the course. The first time they went through with no distractions and then the second time a Trooper who was riding with them handed them a cell phone from which they had to retrieve and send a text message.

Students crashed throughout the course, always having a more difficult time navigating it the second time around. Several even failed to stop at the stop sign.

“Every one of you did worse while you were texting,” Sgt. Collins said.

The students then watched a four-minute video produced by the Gwent Police in the United Kingdom. The clip shows a reenactment of a head-on collision caused by texting and shows graphic detail of the results.

After showing the video, Sgt. Collins reminded students how quickly things change when you’re behind the wheel of a vehicle.

“You see how fast it goes from games to serious,” he said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to pay attention to what you’re doing.”

Sgt. Collins said texting while driving, which is illegal in North Carolina, can be just as deadly as drinking while driving. Both can lead to accidents in which people are killed.

“It only takes a second and then you can’t fix it,” he stressed.

Sgt. Collins said he knew the school had suffered a tragedy in the death of 16-year-old Eric Baggett, a Bethel student killed April 9. He said he knew the loss was difficult for the students and staff, but reminded them not to forget it.

“When tragedy occurs, I’ve found that in six months, teenagers have usually forgotten it and are right back doing the things they learned not to do,” he said. “Don’t let that happen to you.

“I encourage you, encourage you, encourage you to put the silly stuff down while you’re driving,” he added.

Following the demonstration, students from Bethel said they learned quite a bit from having the Highway Patrol Troopers come to their school.

“Driving the course was much harder than I thought,” said junior Brooke White. “I learned that you can’t text and drive because I hit a lot more cones the second time through.”

Sophomore Shane Tripp agreed.

“I learned not to text anymore, that’s for sure,” he said. “When I was driving the golf cart, I was hitting cones left and right when I was trying to text.”

Freshman Taylor Thomas said the first time through was quite a bit easier than the second.

“The first time I was more careful and focused because I wasn’t on the phone,” Thomas said. “The second time I was more focused on the phone. I could have hurt someone in a real life situation.”

Fellow freshman Jessica Howerton said the course was tough both times, but that it was certainly more difficult with the distractions of a cell phone.

“It was hard,” she said. “I learned not to text and drive for sure. I knew it would be harder the second time, but I didn’t know how much harder. It’s definitely something I want to apply when I start driving.”

Overall, the lesson was a valuable one to all of the students.

“I think the students learned how easily their driving skills were diminished by distractions,” said one of Bethel’s teachers, the Rev. Webb Hoggard. “I hope it raised their awareness that a vehicle is the largest weapon they’ll ever have.”