Kennedy High School students KC Boen, Berenice Vargas and Tanner Kahn all said their parents have told them numerous times about the dangers of using their cell phone while driving a car.
“I didn’t really believe them that it wasn’t safe to use my phone,” Boen said. “Now, I do. It’s one thing to be told and another to do it and see what happens to you.”
What changed her mind was she attempted to text a message and drive a car.
“I hit a lot of cones,” she said.
On a rainy and blustery February day, the three students were encouraged to text and drive by a professional driver with Ford Motor Co.’s Driving Skills for Life. The parking lot at Kennedy High School was set-up with three obstacle courses.
In one, the students learned what to do if their car was spinning out-of-control. In the second, students were encouraged to text while maneuvering through an obstacle course. Wearing Fatal Vision goggles that simulate the effects of having a 1.5 percent blood alcohol level, the teens had to navigate a course without hitting any orange cones.
After Kahn adjusted his seat and put on his seat belt, the professional driver told him take a practice drive through the course. Next, Kahn was asked to take out his cell phone and text a message.
Glancing from the obstacle course to his phone, Kahn’s hands shook a little as he attempted to text and steer the car. His face turned a bright red every time he ran over an orange cone and heard the “thump, thump, thump” of the cone lodged under the car.
“I am a really bad driver when I am using my phone,” Kahn said.
He wasn’t alone. As each teen took his or her turn at the task, they ran over several orange cones. More than 70 students participated in the tests. The program is free thanks to Ford’s sponsorship.
It is one thing to tell teenagers not to do something and an entirely different thing to show them, said Mike Speck, a former professional racecar driver and lead instructor for the Ford Driving Skills for Life program.
At an assembly, Speck told students what made him a good racecar driver wasn’t his physique – he’s 5-foot-4 and 140 pounds.
“What makes me a good race car drive is my brain,” he said. “To be a good driver, you must be able to concentrate on the actual task of driving the car.” Too many drivers are distracted by the radio or their cell phone when driving, he said.
And, he added, he knows people who have gone from Point A to Point B while texting or talking on the phone and nothing has happened.
What he wants students to know is that’s perceived success. “What you may not be aware of is how another driver had to avoid you so an accident didn’t happen,” he said.
Telling the students his mission was to brainwash them about the dangers of driving while texting or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Speck shared a story of an boy whose life changed quickly.
He ran a red light while texting and driving and pummeled into a van with a mother, father and two young children, Speck said, adding when the airbags in the boy’s car exploded, they knocked the phone out of his hand and sent it through the back window. The teen was able to get out of his car and get to the van where he learned the mother and a child had been killed.
“It doesn’t matter how bad ass you think you are,” Speck said. “If you make the wrong decisions in a car now, it changes your life and others lives forever.”
Speck told students that more than 6,000 teens are killed on American roads each year – equally about 15 teenagers a day dying in a car crash. He said the Ford Driving Skills for Life program won’t change how teens fundamentally drive.
“What our primary concern is teaching them driving is about making the right decisions,” he said. “You can tell somebody something and they may hear you but when you show them, they get it.”
Fellow Ford Driving Skills for Life Instructor Dennis Werner emphasized the importance parents play in modeling good behavior while driving.
“If parents are texting and talking on the phone while driving, their child is going to think it’s OK for them to do so too,” Werner said. “Parents need to remember good driving habits start at home.”
Natalie Tapia, Ariana Pedraza and Michelle McKay discussed how poorly they did.
“They are right,” Pedraza said. “I can’t text and drive. I ran over every cone while trying to text.”
Sophomore Katie Kliewer understands what her parents are telling her about being responsible while driving.
“They are worried about our safety,” she said. “All those cones I knocked down – those could have been people.”