458. That was the number of roadway deaths in Kentucky in 2012 as of Wednesday morning, when Brad Franklin and Rick Schad spoke to Grayson County High School students about a dangerous phenomenon they call ‘distracted driving.’
A number of these deaths were caused by teen drivers, and many of them could have potentially been avoided if the drivers had paid better attention to the roadway, according to Franklin and Schad.
Safety educators with the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, they brought in a high-tech piece of teaching equipment called a distracted driving simulator, which gave students an opportunity to see the devastating results of taking your attention away from the road even for a moment.
Approximately 90 driver’s education students had the opportunity to buckle into the device’s racing seat, which is mounted with a steering wheel and three screens that look something like a video game as they show simulated roadways from the driver’s point of view.
These virtual roadways, which range from city streets to country highways, have all of the potential dangers of real roadways, such as pedestrians, deer and oncoming traffic. Students were asked to try to safely navigate these roadways using gas and break pedals just like the ones in their own cars.
Once a student got a feel for the simulator, Franklin would either start a conversation, ask him or her to take out their cell phone and send a text, or create some other type of minor distraction.
Students quickly learned that texting while driving, or even just talking or reaching for a pencil, often landed them in a tough situation.
“What happened there?” Franklin asked one student who had tried pulling up a text while in the driver’s seat.
“I hit a deer,” the boy laughed, placing his iphone back onto his lap.
While plenty of students got a good laugh out of their virtual wrecks, they were reminded by Franklin and Schad that real-life collisions are no laughing matter, and distractions such as cell phones, radios, eating while driving, and even having too many passengers in the car, can quickly land someone in the hospital or worse.
“It can all change in the blink of an eye,” Schad told the teens.
“The main thing is awareness of their surroundings,” Franklin explained, saying that he wants these students to realize that when you text or participate in other distracting behaviors while driving, “you’re not only putting yourself in danger, you’re putting other people in danger.”