CORTLAND - Katie Lamar said she expected to have a difficult time texting messages on her cellphone while operating a vehicle simulator. However, the 17-year-old Lakeview High School senior didn't expect to "crash" the car as quickly as she did.
"I get it," she said after climbing out of the vehicle. "At least this way you can walk away from it. That might not be the way it is if you're in a real accident."
Lamar, who has her driver's license, and dozens of her classmates lined up at the school parking lot on Thursday to test their skills at texting while driving.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol, state Rep. Sean O'Brien and AT&T teamed with Lakeview to bring the high-tech, distracted driver texting and driving simulator to the high school. The hands-on activity, coupled with an assembly on the dangers of texting and driving, provided the students with an opportunity to experience what could happen to them, or others, if they text and drive.
The presentation, part of AT&T's ''It Can Wait'' program, sends the message that texting can - and should - wait until after driving, said Holly Hollingsworth, senior public relations consultant with the communication company.
Students took turns sitting behind the wheel of the car parked outside the high school. As part of the exercise, they were given goggles to wear that gave them a view of what the road in front of them might look like as they are driving. A screen outside the car allowed spectators to get an idea of what was going on during the three-to-five minute ''trip.''
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Megan Laws, 15, a sophomore at Lakeview High School, attempts to text while driving a simulator as Dylan Richardson, simulator operator, watches outside the vehicle.
Photo by Virginia Shank
Students and other spectators could hear wheels screeching, and in some cases the car crashing.
"This is a little different than actually driving a car," said Dylan Richardson, who operated the simulator. "But it shows how your reaction time is impaired and what can happen by taking your eyes off the road to look at or send a text, even briefly.
''Most young drivers especially are overconfident with their driving skills. This is a reality check,'' Richardson said.
Richard Stevens, high school principal, said that all high school sophomores, juniors and seniors were invited to participate.
"At least this way they can get an idea of what could happen, but no one gets hurt," he said.
The event also included a screening of the 10-minute documentary ''The Last Text,'' which shares real stories about lives altered or ended by the decision to text and drive.
Students were asked to sign a pledge to not text and drive and were introduced to a free app designed to help reduce the temptation to text and drive. The app automatically sends a customized reply to incoming texts notifying the sender that the user is driving and unable to respond.
In Ohio, the ban on texting while driving took effect Aug. 31. However, no tickets will be given for the next six months' grace period. Police will give a warning and information on the ban, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law in June.
The measure makes texting while driving a secondary traffic offense for adults, meaning police cannot stop a motorist for the sole purpose of giving a citation for texting while driving. However, they can be cited if they have been stopped for another traffic violation.
Motorists younger than 18 are prohibited from using any wireless electronic device - cell phone, smart phone, laptop computer, computer tablet or any other such device - while driving, and rather than it being a secondary offense, the new law makes it a primary offense.
"I'd like to say I haven't texted while driving, but I can't," Lamar said. "I'm definitely more cautious now, and I think it's important for everyone to be serious about this. There are other options. It's just not worth it."