Student assembly: Smartphone use while driving could be deadly

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Prairie du Chien High School student Jacqueline LaHaie tries out AAA’s distracted driving simulator at the “It Can Wait” event hosted by AT&T, AAA and the Wisconsin State Patrol, Monday morning in the high school gym.

By Correne Martin

Prairie du Chien High School students were urged to pledge to keep their eyes on the road, not on their smartphones, when behind the wheel, as part of an “It Can Wait” campaign presented Monday morning. Nearly 350 students learned about the dangers of smartphone/cell phone activities while driving and that they can—and should—wait until they’re finished driving. The assembly was part of a series of high school events AT&T, AAA and the Wisconsin State Patrol are holding to drive home the dangers of distracted driving and encouraging kids to take the pledge.

“We’ve visited 99 schools since 2010,” noted Jessica Erickson, of AT&T.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, DOT Program Manager Dave Pabst, Wisconsin State Trooper Casey Updike, AT&T Director of External Affairs Kent Disch and AAA Public Affairs Director Nick Jarmusz, along with Prairie du Chien Police Sergeant Kyle Teynor and Prairie du Chien High School Principal Andy Banasik, spoke to the students about how smartphone activity while driving is very dangerous and can be deadly.

“In today’s digital age, we know how tempting it is for teens to text, email or even take videos while driving,” Principal Banasik stated.

The “It Can Wait” campaign has expanded its focus, since 2010, from texting while driving to include other smartphone activities now common behind the wheel, such as checking Facebook or email, interacting on Twitter, browsing the web, and more.

Monday’s event featured AAA’s distracted driving simulator, which allowed students to experience the dangers of smartphone activities behind the wheel.

Jacob Lenzendorf, Zach DuCharme and Jacqueline LaHaie experienced the simulator, which engaged them in driving on a busy roadway. As they tried to drive, AAA’s Jarmusz asked each of the students to either text someone, make a Facebook post or check for information on a website. All of them committed traffic violations behind the wheel, whether it was veering into a bike lane, causing a minor crash or running a stop light.

Also, the teens watched a powerful documentary produced by AT&T called “The Last Text” (can be found on YouTube), which shared real stories about lives altered or ended by someone’s decision to text and drive.

“You could hear a pin drop in the room (during the video),” commented Karen Sjoberg, dean of students.

At the end of the assembly, Jarmusz wrapped up by saying, “Avoid distractions. Avoid mistakes. Avoid crashes.”

Banasik added, “It’s not worth losing a life. It’s not worth killing somebody else.”

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