January 31, 2013
Police and lawmakers are working to crack down on texting and driving, because studies show that it can be as dangerous as driving drunk.
To illustrate the dangers of texting and driving, the Newsplex put five volunteers through a driving simulation at a University of Virginia lab. The volunteers were asked to respond to several texts, immediately, while completing a virtual driving test.
The results were not always pretty.
"I ended up in another lane," said Jeannie Beidler, from Charlottesville, "or over to the curb."
Beidler was actually the most successful participant. She was the only driver to complete the test without hitting something.
"Once or twice I was aiming for a parked car rather than going straight ahead," said Jim Duncan, from Charlottesville.
"I hit the back of a car," said teenager Lauryn Frymier, from Madison. Frymier did not yet have her license when she went through the simulation. She was scheduled to get it the next week.
The other teenager, 17-year-old Jesse Barker from Ruckersville, also got in a couple crashes.
"I noticed every time I got a text and I'd start replying, then I'd look back up, and I'd be almost out of my lane," said Barker.
While replying to one particular text, Barker had to look down from the road a total of seven times. The last time he looked down, his eyes were away from the road for nearly five seconds.
If Barker had been driving on an actual highway, going 50 miles per hour, he would have covered the length of an entire football field during that five seconds, without looking up at the road once.
"Even though I send a lot of texts a day, while driving, I can't send texts at all," said Barker. "Because I will mess up."
The teens were not the only ones messing up. All of the volunteers swerved out of their lane several times. Keith Davis, from Charlottesville, rear-ended a van near the end of the exam.
"Your text was very well-timed on that one," said Davis.
The drivers ran into other cars or objects a total of six times. Another three times, they went off the road completely. The group also neglected to use turn signals ten times.
"It makes me want to re-up my dedication to not texting and driving," said Duncan.
"You can hurt yourself or others," said Frymier. "You don't really know what's going on, on the road, when you're looking down."
The Newsplex is partnering with the Albemarle County Police Department on a campaign that will encourage drivers to avoid texting and driving. Details on that campaign will be available shortly, on this web site.