GARY — Students at Thea Bowman Leadership Academy are learning more than math, English and computer technology at the high school. They also are learning about the dangers of distracted driving.
To drive home that reality, AT&T brought a virtual reality simulator to the high school last week.
Students and staff — some of whom will be heading out for spring break travel shortly — experienced first hand how dangerous it is to take their eyes off the road and glance at a cell phone.
Sophomore Saith Haggard thought the simulator was a great experience.
"It shows that you can be in a crash, harm yourself, your passenger and the other driver," she said. "After that experience, I'm more likely to tell people to get off the phone and wait until they've stopped. People text and they play games to kill time. I've objected to it before, but after seeing this exercise, it really encouraged me to say to drivers to wait."
Being in the simulator was kind of weird, sophomore Terrance Montgomery said, because everything was in 3D. "The accident experience at the end was especially weird," he added. "It just goes to show you that you really can't be distracted while driving."
The visit was part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign.
"It Can Wait" is a national movement urging drivers to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones. The campaign began with a focus on not texting and driving. It has now expanded to the broader dangers of smartphone use behind the wheel.
AT&T said research shows that 7-in-10 people engage in activities on their cell phone while driving. Those activities include texting, "liking" pictures online, taking selfies and watching videos.
Gary Cty Councilwoman Mary Brown, who helped bring the presentation to the high school, said she's heard countless stories from first responders about the unbelievable things people do on their phones.
"This has become a serious public safety issue, and I’m hopeful that AT&T’s efforts hit home for Thea Bowman’s young drivers,” she said.
Since its launch in 2010, the campaign has:
• Helped grow awareness of the dangers of smartphone distracted driving to nearly 90 percent of audiences surveyed.
• Inspired more than 14 million pledges to not drive distracted.
• Worked with departments of transportation in Texas, Kentucky and other states on research that suggests a correlation between "It Can Wait" campaign activities and a reduction in crashes.
• Collaborated with AT&T data scientists on research that shows how statewide anti-texting laws impact the rate of texting while driving.
Bowman Assistant Principal Lamont Holifield said glancing down at a cell phone is clearly a compulsion, and for teen drivers, it’s very hard to resist.
“We’re so appreciative that AT&T is shining the spotlight on this dangerous practice, particularly as some families are getting ready to hit the road for spring break," he said. "It’s an important message for those staying home in Gary, too, as more of our students will be driving in the community, while they’re out of school.”
Bowman, which has a student population of 1,097 students in kindergarten through grade 12, is authorized by Angola-based Trine University.
Bowman has struggled with a D grade from the Indiana Department of Education since 2013.
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