Texting While Driving Kills, and Virtual Reality Tool Is the Convincer

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 18, 2016

I’m backing out of my suburban driveway when the first text comes in, so naturally I answer it. C’mon, I have two hands—I can drive with one and text with the other.

Do you think this guy will text and drive again? The 3D video experience is unnerving. (AT&T)

Heading towards the highway, I get another text as I’m pulling up to a stop sign. Whoops, almost didn’t see that crossing guard escorting those schoolkids across the street. Another few blocks, and I’m replying to another text when a biker yells at me for almost hitting him. “Watch where you’re going,” he yells. Let’s get real—it wasn’t even close.

On the highway, I’m halfway to work when another text comes in—all about our big date tonight, and it can’t wait. I’m texting with my thumbs when a honking car let’s me know I’ve drifted halfway into the left lane. I correct, no problem. I’m not going to do anything really dangerous, of course. I send the text.

Off the highway and cruising toward the office, one more text about where we’re going to eat. I’m responding to that one and somehow miss the stop sign—broadsided, glass everywhere. My phone goes flying.

Don’t worry, I didn’t actually do any of this. I never text and drive. Instead, the above is a loose summary of what happened when I used the “It Can Wait” campaign’s driving simulator with my smart phone and 3D virtual reality Google glasses. It’s pretty unnerving—you really are at the wheel as you get those texts. And you can look around and see all the activity at your peripheral vision—stuff you’d notice if your attention was on driving instead of your phone.

AAA estimates that the “latency” of a distracted driving incident lasts 27 seconds, meaning that if you reply to a text it might take only 15 seconds but you won’t be fully engaged again for nearly 30. Joe Scott, president and CEO of the Jersey City Medical Center, the regional trauma center, told me five seconds of distraction at 65 mph moves the car the length of a football field. “Most people will have flawed response times because of texting,” he said.

Scott’s seen plenty of tragic accidents involving texting and driving. One he cited, in West New York, New Jersey, involved a bus driver named Idowu Daramola who was looking at his cellphone when he crashed into a lamppost. The post collapsed onto a stroller and killed the eight-month-old baby inside, Angelie Paredes. Using a cellphone while operating a vehicle is one of the charges against Daramola.

The view from the virtual cockpit. All this stuff is happening around you. (AT&T)

“Seven in ten people text and drive,” Scott said. “Because of what I’ve seen, I turn my phone off.”

Distracted driving reaches new heights with teenage drivers—they’re paying attention to something else almost a quarter of the time, the AAA Foundation in-car survey reports. In videos made of teen driver behavior, 6.7 percent were seen using an electronic device. Female teen drivers used electronic devices while driving at twice the rate of male drivers, but males were twice as likely to turn around to engage passengers as females were. In 58 percent of crashes involving teenage drivers 16 to 19, distraction was a key factor. Teenagers have their whole lives ahead of them, and motor vehicle accidents are their leading cause of death.

AT&T has a simulator—sort of like a video game, with the operator in what looks like the driver’s seat—it’s been touring around at places like the Jersey City Medical Center this year. Sixty-five-thousand people have used it at 200 stops. One major goal is to get participants to sign a pledge saying they won't--ever, ever--text and drive.

The simulator at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. Time to slow down and unplug. (AT&T)

Sandra Howard, an AT&T spokeswoman, said the company’s campaign to stop distracted driving is six years old. “The simulator is one part of it,” she said. “We’re trying to identify how to be as impactful as possible. Our goal is for the audience to walk away with a clear idea of how their personal behavior can be detrimental to both themselves and others.” A third of the people who use the simulator say it will change their behavior.

The video below is the one-dimensional version of what you see in the driving simulator. If you get the cardboard Google glasses (Google.com/cardboard) and download the phone app from the App Store or ItCanWait.com/VR, you can duplicate my experience.

But just watching this video is unnerving enough. The bottom line: Don’t text and drive! Did you get that? Don’t text and drive.

Some 3.29 million people have also watched the following 2015 video, directed by Werner Herzog and also sponsored by AT&T. Warning: The content is highly emotional and graphic:

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