In our work as a Panama City car accident law firm, we see what happens when people focus on their mobile devices rather than the road. We believe in educating drivers to prevent texting and driving, and we applaud a program at a local school designed to teach teens to avoid the dangerous behavior.
The News Herald reported on Bay High School's recent participation in AT&T's "It Can Wait." Juniors took part in the program, which uses video games to enhance and enrich learning. One student noted that AT&T's commercials alone scared her enough to encourage her to keep her phone in her backpack and the backpack in her trunk, making it impossible to text. The "It Can Wait" program began Wednesday, when students listened to AT&T representatives speak about the dangers of texting behind the wheel. They then got the opportunity to try a simulator, a real car equipped with a computer and a virtual reality headset.
AT&T's Gulf Coast area public relations manager, Sue Sperry, told reporters that the company is taking the campaign to schools across the nation, and also hopes to mark September 19 as an annual “No Texting and Driving Day.” Sperry noted that the teens come to the program in a fun mood and enjoy laughing when their friends fail miserably at the simulator. However, when it is their turn to step in and they see how it feels to lose control of a car, they sober up and begin to truly appreciate the importance of not texting behind the wheel. Sperry wisely adds that teens do not respond well to soft sells, and thus need a more realistic program.
Of course, students have already heard the message about not texting while driving. Prior to the AT&T program, the representatives questioned the teens about the issue. Several did say they do not text and drive because they've either experienced accidents that made them recognize how easy it is for a driver to become distracted, or they have seen drivers swerve while trying to text and drive. Students also noted that texting not only puts you at risk, but it also endangers others nearby. The simulator experience reinforced this knowledge and helped reach those who hadn't already taken the message seriously by actually placing them in the situation (luckily, without the safety risks). One student, the first from his group to volunteer for the simulator, didn't get far on the virtual road. Afterwards, he reported that it shows you the danger of missing anything while driving. The teens also watch their classmates attempt the simulator and the organizers said many of the students signed the "It Can Wait" pledge.
Notably, Sperry said that approximately half of the teens the team surveyed said they learned the behavior from one or both of their parents. She charged parents with the responsibility of modeling good driving behavior with their kids. Sperry noted this duty goes beyond just texting to include other safe driving behaviors such as keeping your eyes on the road and not talking on the phone. AT&T suggests newer drivers avoid even hands-free mobile devices. As Sperry said in the Herald article, "The communication needs to be you, the road, and your environment."
Florida is one of the few states that does not have a specific law banning texting behind the wheel for all or at least some drivers (i.e. some states focus on novice drivers or certain groups like school bus drivers). Florida also does not have any law prohibiting or limiting cell phone calls behind the wheel. While this means these acts cannot lead to a traffic ticket or other charge, it does not mean the behavior is acceptable. It is unsafe, and the fact that a driver was texting or on the phone at the time of a crash is a key piece of evidence in an injury trial stemming from the accident. We can and do work with victims of crashes caused by distracted drivers in Panama City and the surrounding regions.
To see more about the AT&T “It Can Wait” program (aimed at teens but informative for all ages), visit their website and take their pledge. The site also features an app that can put the phone in "Driver Mode," which silences calls and messages and sends out an auto-reply (you can opt to permit up to five people to interrupt and the user can always call 911).