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Distracted driving messages hit home

Dana Lieble looks on as Nate Vonasek just completes his turn at the texting while driving simulator during the Save a Life Tour visit to CVTC Nov. 12. The star of broken glass on the video screen indicates Vonasek had crashed while doing the exercise.

Coming down a freeway onramp, Kong Her ended up in the grass off to the side. He also took a wrong turn and ended up off the road in a walking area. But at least he didn’t put a star of broken glass on the windshield from an impact with his forehead like Nate Vonasek did.

Fortunately, these mishaps were all on a simulator, and no one was really injured or scared out of their wits. Her and Vonasek were among the dozens of students and staff who tried the texting-while-driving simulator when the Save a Life Tour came to CVTC on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

The Save a Life Tour draws attention to the dangers of distracted driving with a multi-media, interactive, high-impact presentation on the devastating, real-life results of using a phone while driving. Research has shown that distracted driving is the leading cause of death among teens, and texting while driving is six times more likely to result in a crash than driving while intoxicated.

Participants operated the driving simulators while receiving messages on a cell phone to which they were supposed to respond. Of course, the distraction led to many driving mistakes, including some “fatal” crashes. At least one participant hit a pedestrian. The simulators weren’t the only part of the program, which also included a personal account by one of the program presenters and some graphic and dramatic videos. One video showed a young woman who had a crash that killed her friends and scarred her face. She ended up being sentenced to seven years in prison.

“So there you have it. Pretty intense, right? I’ve seen that video hundreds of times and it still gets to me,” said Save a Life presenter Anthony Lawrence.

There are three kinds of distractions that inhibit driving ability, Lawrence explained. A cognitive distraction takes a driver’s mind off of driving. A visual distraction takes a driver’s eyes off the road, and a manual distraction takes hands off the wheel. Texting while driving can involve all three at once.

Those trying the simulators found out how tough it can be.

“A lot of them are crashing,” Lawrence said. “They looked down at the phone to send a message and when they looked up they were in the wrong lane or driving up a tree.”

“I did really bad,” said Carl Scheidler, a student from Cadott. “It’s hard to concentrate to read the message, go the speed limit, and drive. It was about putting driving last.” He said he ran both a red light and a stop sign on the simulator. Scheidler said he hasn’t texted while driving since signing a pledge against it in high school.

“It was pretty interesting,” said Her. “It’s a lot different than when you have people just talking to you about it.”
Outside the Casper Conference Center a paper banner gave people a place to write how distracted driving had impacted their lives.

“I sustained a closed head injury from being rear-ended,” wrote one person. “My car was totaled. I lost my job, my income, and I lost my apartment and had to withdraw from school. (If not for my parents supporting me, I would have been homeless). I sustained significant cognitive and memory issues. . .”

“One of my students just lost his little brother to distracted driving,” wrote another.

Sadly, that tragedy will not be the last one caused by distracted driving, but perhaps the visit to CVTC by the Save a Life Tour will save someone’s life.