It happens often: The realization of the dangers of texting while driving sink in as students in the Kansas City area go through a simulated experience.
For Josh Morgan, the community relations manager at Cable-Dahmer Chevrolet of Independence, the education on the ongoing problem of texting while driving is important.
Last spring, Cable-Dahmer started a program called Eyes on the Road KC. Truman, Rockhurst, Shawnee Mission East and SM South high schools participated in it.
The students sit in a Camaro convertible that has a driving simulator hooked up to it.
“It is a fun car, and the students like that,” Morgan said. “Two, it is a convertible so it is really easy for everybody to be involved. They can stand around and see what is going on.”
A TV screen, like a video game, is hooked up in front of the car. Sensors are attached to the brakes, gas pedal and steering wheel. Students drive through simulated environments.
“Either myself or a student in the crowd will text them, and 99.9 percent of the time, people will wreck,” Morgan said. “That is definitely the point.”
Many different situations are thrown at the students during the simulation, like a car backing down the road, forcing the driver of the simulator to get out of the way.
Morgan hears students say that they will never encounter such a situation in real life.
“The thing I try to stress to them is you can only control yourself when you are driving,” Morgan said. “You have no control what anybody else is doing.”
The message is if you are distracted by texting, you probably will not have time to react if another driver is doing something wrong.
The Eyes on the Road KC program makes clear the importance of being focused when behind the wheel.
“A lot of them come in with the mentality that they are young and invincible and nothing is going to happen,” Morgan said. “After they do the simulation, you hear, ‘Wow, I am never going to text while I’m driving. I am going to put my phone in the glove box.’
“They realize how dangerous it actually is.”
The program started last spring when Carlos Ledezma, president of Cable-Dahmer, wanted to come up with a way to give back to the community, Morgan said.
“One of our guys, who does ad work, found this company out of Washington, D.C., that had the car simulator,” Morgan said. “He brought the idea to Carlos. Next thing you know we are buying a simulator and taking it out to the schools.”
The first school they visited was Truman High School. It makes sense because Cable- Dahmer Chevrolet and Truman are on the same busy stretch of Noland Road in Independence.
“You should try crossing Noland at lunchtime or 5 p.m.,” Morgan said. “It gets pretty hairy. Countless times I have driven down the road and seen kids driving with their knees and texting with both hands.” Cable-Dahmer wants to do its part in eliminating those kinds of driving practices.
The Eyes on the Road KC program is still in its infancy. Morgan is seeking more schools to bring the simulator machine to and demonstrate to students the danger of texting and driving.
Schools that are interested can go to the website www.cabledahmer.com, click on Eyes on the Road KC and then click on request an event.
“There are several things we can do with the simulator,” Morgan said. “It is not just texting and driving. We can simulate intoxication on it. We would like to target a company annual health fair or any type of community event like that.
“But our primary focus is schools and texting and driving. If we are able to get out in the community and educate more people, that is awesome and definitely something we want to do.”
The number of people hurt by distracted drivers is alarming. Statistics provided by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute show every year more than 400,000 people are injured in a motor vehicle accident that involves a distracted driver. It has led to more than 3,000 fatalities in those types of accidents.
Another finding is at any given moment in the United States, there are nearly 1 million people who are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.
“The more research I have done on the subject, the more I realize how bad it is,” Morgan said. “I knew it was a bad idea, but I didn’t know how much of an epidemic it is and how many lives it affects.
“This is important. One of the reasons this position was offered to me was because I volunteered my time with this program at events. Carlos saw the passion I had for this. He thought I would be the right fit for this program and try to grow it as big as possible.”
If you have a story you would like to see in Making a Difference, email David Boyce at Drive@ksctar.com