Keah Hiatt, a senior at Helena High School, learned a hard lesson in front of her classmates Tuesday afternoon. Hiatt struck a dog while attempting to drive and text simultaneously. Luckily for all involved, it was part of an educational simulation.
“The dog came running out of nowhere and I didn’t have the response time,” Hiatt said after being the first to volunteer to use a computerized system involving a real car.
The issue of texting while driving is not new in Helena, where the action has been banned.
“There are kids whose lives have been snuffed out that very way,” Helena Mayor Jim Smith told the students. “You probably know someone and so do I.”
Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau also tried a spin behind the wheel. She too had a friend die as a result of distracted driving, she said.
Juneau said she was especially disturbed by the simulation when she recalled that in a recent survey half of Montana’s teens admitted to texting while driving.
The simulator, provided by AT&T, has been used in many cities to show the dangers of using a cellphone while driving as part of the company’s “Texting & Driving … It Can Wait” campaign.
Jason Olson, director of external affairs for AT&T, said teens text an average of 60 times per day. If some of those texts are made while driving, each of those messages takes the driver’s eyes off the road for an average of five seconds.
Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Andrew Knapp told the students they have enough distractions on their mind and within the vehicle already and can’t be further disturbed with a cellphone.
Most crashes in Montana involved one vehicle. Knapp said a main reason for this is that drivers are not paying attention to the task at hand.
“Limit those distractions as much as possible,” he said to the teens.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078, email@example.com or Twitter.com/IR_AngelaBrandt