We’re all guilty, but not necessarily as “charged.” Maybe some of you HAVE been charged but…
Who among us, who drives a vehicle, has:
• eaten/drank while driving
• talked on the phone while driving
• looked for a CD to load while driving
• searched the back seat with a “free” hand for an item
• read while driving
• applied make-up (sorry girls, this reporter has at least one witness thereto)
• and (drum roll) ta-DA: texted while driving
This reporter, confess I must, has done most of the above, but has never been charged therewith.
It’s all in the file folder called distracted driving, with which Sheriff Jim Sabin shared with 14 high school students from county high schools, who volunteered on a day off (Good Friday) to partake in an experiment in driving while texting. They were chosen for their earned respect and trustworthiness among their classmates and being outgoing and willing to return to their respective schools to share what they’ve learned.
Also in the classroom, Sabin gave some driving tips in the event of an over correction. He asked the question, when a front wheel happens to leave the paved roadway and roll onto an unpaved berm, what’s your reaction?
He jerked his hand from right to left to show over correction.
“And you hit the brake,” he said.
“Don’t do that.”
What the driver should do is keep a firm hand on the wheel hold it steady, ease up on the gas and gradually try to return all four wheels to the pavement.
Sabin said if a driver takes his/her eyes off the road for five seconds, at 55 mph, their car travels more than 100 yards.
That fact surprised Travis Chaffin of Madison-Plains High School.
“A lot can happen,” he said.
This reporter rode in the back seat while Chaffin navigated the course. At instructor Ron Thayer’s commands, Chaffin drove the course of serpentines, switchbacks and sharp turns on a closed course at the OPATA training grounds. He said it’s the same course on which law enforcement officers train.
Interestingly, Chaffin’s personal ride is a Hemi-powered Charger, so he was familiar with the driver’s seat layout of the pedals, steering wheel, gear selector, etc.
He drove the course the first time without texting. Very smoothly he navigated the course with its twists and turns at speeds between 15 and 20 mph.
Then he drove the course two more times, cell phone on, texts coming rapidly. Now Chaffin was multi-tasking: listening to Thayer’s commands, watching the road, handling the steering wheel with his left hand while attempting to answer texts with his right. Even at low speeds, Chaffin’s driving became jerky. He successfully navigated the course — every cone left standing — but “he missed an entire lane,” Thayer pointed out.
The error came in the middle of a text.
In his defense, Chaffin said as he tried during texting “to look up as much as I can.”
Chaffin said he plans to pursue a career in law enforcement as many in his family have.
Morgan Haynes of London High School said she started “freaking out and hitting cones” when the texts began to come to her cell phone while she was on the course. Those deputies texting her relentlessly sent her texts.
“If you didn’t respond, they’d text you again,” she said after her trip around the course.
Then the instructor, Jeff Eggleston, told her to go faster.
Haynes said the view from the Charger’s driver’s seat was much different than her Ford Escape and found it harder to see the cones.
She learned not to text and drive because it’s easy to get distracted.
Jonathan Alder student Chandler Furko found the course harder as he tried to drive and text.
“It made it a lot harder,” he said. “You don’t realize the effect distracted driving has on you until you encounter a course like that.”
When Sabin proposed the one-day exercise to OPATA, the administration approved it. Lou Agosta, deputy director said it was a great idea. Law enforcement officers, who are trained on the same course also have many distractions as they operate their cruisers and Agosta said OPATA is addressing those needs.
“Sometimes technology makes things more difficult,” he said.
Sabin said of the lesson of not texting while driving, “the awareness is certainly working.”
Dean Shipley can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 17 or via Twitter @DeanAShipley.