AT&T launches annual anti-distracted-driving campaign at Danville High

AT&T launches annual anti-distracted-driving campaign at Danville High

DANVILLE — Last summer, Kenji Nakamura was on a road trip to Ohio with his mom and several friends when his mom almost ran off the road.

"She was on her phone," said the Danville High School sophomore, who remembers saying, "Are you kidding me?" and hearing his friends whisper, "We almost died!"

No one was injured, Nakamura said. But that experience — and taking part in a simulated texting-and-driving collision on Tuesday — were enough to make him take a pledge to never text or talk on the phone while driving and to speak up if someone he's riding with does.

"When I drive, I'll just tell my passenger to take my phone," said the 16-year-old, who will get his driver's license in June.

The 360-degree virtual-reality simulator is part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" 2018 campaign, which kicked off its nationwide tour at Danville High. During the tour, two simulators will make stops at high schools, college campuses, governmental events and street festivals over the next 10 months.

"This as a safe way for young people to understand the consequences of distracted driving," said Chris Warwick, director of external affairs for the communication company's central Illinois region.

He and tour manager Michael Stephenson said they were thrilled that the simulator was part of Tuesday's event, organized by the DHS Future Problem Solvers. The award-winning group created "Project Ignition: Be the Key to Road Safety," aimed at promoting safe driving among teens, and is entering it in a state competition in the community problem-solving category this month.

"They're the drivers of the future," Warwick said, "so we want them to understand the dangers of distracted driving when they're starting out. And we think they're the best ambassadors. They will tell their friends ... and their parents."

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The Future Problem Solvers decided to focus on the issue following an Oct. 3, 2016, car crash, which killed 16-year-old D'nija Parker, a DHS student.

Through their research, they learned the four leading causes of driving-related fatalities are: driving under the influence, distracted driving, speeding and not wearing a seat belt.

Among some of the grim statistics involving teens: speeding is part of 35 percent of all teen driving fatalities, teen drivers are four times more likely to have car accidents after dark, and 16- and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.

"Teens have this idea ... that nothing bad can happen to them," junior Reese Marcott said, adding she hopes this shows them "they're not invincible."

As part of the project, the group hosted the Vermilion County Youth Leadership Conference in January, at which community leaders and more than 100 students from high schools throughout the county and a handful of fourth-graders from Mark Denman Elementary in Danville discussed road safety problems and brainstormed solutions.

Junior MaKayla Smith said the group has already implemented a few of the ideas, including hanging banners with safe-driving messages and handing out "pun candy" on Tuesdays. Pun candy might be a package of Airheads with the message "Don't be an airhead ... Stay focused and undistracted" or a Dum Dum sucker with the message "Don't be a Dum Dum ... Always wear your seat belt."

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Other projects include making signs about unsafe road conditions and installing them along Interstate 74 between Danville and Champaign, and holding a road-safety week and an all-school assembly in the spring.

For Tuesday's safety event, the group set up different stations, where students could learn statistics and safety tips such as always buckle up and never drive under the influence. They could also incorporate their own safe driving suggestions into interactive posters.

Jolene Blodgett, a freshman, and Imani Thomas, a junior, said they were glad they got a chance to try out the simulator.

"I feel you have to experience it ... or know someone who's been in an accident to fully understand how dangerous it really is," Blodgett said, adding the simulator shows how you can take your eyes off the road for only a second and be involved in a crash. "I think a lot of people are desensitized to it. They don't think it could actually happen to them."

"I'm a new driver, so I don't like to take any chances," Thomas said, shortly after taking the "I Can Wait" pledge. "When I'm driving, I turn the sound down (on my phone), so I'm not distracted by a beep or anything."

If she's riding with a driver who starts to text, Thomas said she's not afraid to take his or her phone away.

"I say, 'That's not safe. I'm in the car, and I don't want to get hurt. I can send your text for you.'"

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MarkBrisson wrote on February 14, 2018 at 8:02 am

Texting is not just a "teen" problem. There are millions of employees in company cars and fleet vehicles who try to "multi-task" behind the wheel. 

While Illinois may seek to lower distracted driving by increasing penalties, fees and regulations, there is another option. There are anti-texting apps, like AT&T DriveMode which is FREE!

One area that is rarely discussed is that Illinois has thousands of government vehicles that inspectors, regulators and the agricultural department use as fleet vehicles, but they do not have the technology to diminish distracted driving. I would love to see one state lead by example and use a program, like FleetMode, to block texts, redirect incoming phone calls, and impede all other apps in the State vehicles. If we want our state roads to be safer, let’s start by making our state vehicles safer.