Denise Smith Amos reports:
OMG! The grace period on Ohio’s ban on texting while driving ends Friday.That means a driver younger than 18 could face a $150 fine and lose his or her license if found using a cellphone while driving. That’s for the first offense; a second offense doubles the fine and time without a driver’s license.
It’s about time, said some Colerain High School teens Monday who watched peers trying to text and drive on a special car simulator at the school for the day.
“It’s difficult. You can’t focus on two things at once,” said Randy Yazel, a 17-year-old junior from Colerain Township, who tried to text and drive and ended up hitting a virtual pedestrian.
“I don’t like people texting and driving overall,” he said. “I’ve seen friends and some parents do it. I’m sure they’re aware of the dangers. It’s just that some people don’t care.”
A national survey of teens commissioned by AT&T last year showed that 97 percent think texting and driving is a bad idea, yet 43 percent admit they do it. They could be influenced by their parents: 41 percent of teens say their parents text and drive.
At Colerain High School, the teens got into the car, put on special eye gear that let them see only the virtual road and the cellular phone in their hands. Then they were told to text typical things such as “where r u” or “what’s up this weekend?”
Meanwhile, dozens of their peers stood around a computer screen, occasionally laughing at their impaired driving.
Some drivers zoomed over the 45 mile-per-hour limit while others drove too slow. One trundled along at 10 miles per hour while texting.
Most students weaved in and out of lanes, crossed into oncoming traffic or blew through red lights.
One boy ran an intersection and hit a virtual boy crossing the street. Another killed a dog, a third hit some cars.
“It was really scary,” said Tabitha Schmeh, a 16-year-old sophomore from Colerain Township. “I knew it was a danger, but I didn’t know it would be that hard.
“You look down and think you’ll be fine, but in the next minute you’re in the median.“
The car simulator, by AT&T, has been touring the country for about two years. This is its first visit to Cincinnati.
After the program, many students vowed not to text while driving; others weren’t convinced. One boy said he texts while stopped at lights and stop signs – but Ohio’s texting ban, passed last year, makes no distinction between texting at a stop light and texting in motion.
In addition to the car simulation tour, AT&T is promoting a free app – DriveMode – for Android and Blackberry users. The app turns on automatically when a vehicle moves 25 miles per hour or more.
It responds to texts or emails, saying the driver will respond later, and it sends calls to voicemail. Automakers are considering placing similar services in their cars, said Holly Hollingsworth, an AT&T spokeswoman.
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