SANTA FE, N.M. — They are young and impressionable – and AT&T representatives wanted to make an impression.
The company brought a video driving simulator to Santa Fe on Tuesday so 14- and 15-year-olds could take turns trying to text without crashing the virtual car.
Their peers looked on, shouting out warnings and advice.
“That’s a ticket right there,” one yelled.
“You crashed” into a parked bus, another said.
In more than 100,000 car crashes a year resulting in injury or death, the driver was texting while driving, according to National Safety Council statistics provided by AT&T spokeswoman Karen Kruse.
“This is our target group – mid-schoolers and high-schoolers that are driving or about to drive,” Kruse said after she spoke to about 40 teenagers at the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club. The kids took the controls of the simulator as part of the “It Can Wait” campaign.
Kruse asked the kids to close their eyes and count to five. While traveling at 55 mph, “in that amount of time you went the length of a football field,” she said. “Wow,” one of the kids responded.
Destiny Larranaga, 15, a Capital High School student, is licensed to drive. When she took her turn at the controls, she didn’t crash, but the sound of police sirens punctuated her session.
“There was a cop at the gas station that saw you texting and driving,” Chris “CJ” Johnson told Larranaga. Johnson takes the simulator from state to state for AT&T for presentations like Tuesday’s. It was the simulator’s first visit to New Mexico.
“I learned that texting and driving is very dangerous because you could not only put yourself in danger but others too,” Larranaga said. She already knew that, “but I didn’t really take it into consideration that it could be that dangerous to myself.”
Will she text now when she drives? “It depends,” she said. “My mom sends me out to do grocery shopping and stuff and if she texts me I have to text back so she knows I am not in any trouble or anything.”
Jonah Madrid, 14, got the message, in part. “It’s hard to text and drive and hard to text when you have to turn and steer,” he said. Will Tuesday’s event stop him from doing so? “Most of the time, yes, but I will probably do it occasionally, depending on the situation.”
Antonio Lovato, 14, of Capshaw Middle School, said he got the message as clear as a text. “It’s too easy to get in a crash, and just taking your eyes off the road for a couple of seconds is risky,” he said.
Kruse said AT&T’s aim is to make “texting and driving as socially unacceptable as drinking and driving.” The company started the “It Can Wait” campaign in 2009, and more than 254 organizations and telecommunication companies have adopted it.
Kruse told the teens that they can use a free app called DriveMode to respond to incoming texts by saying they are driving and can’t answer right away.