Central York High School senior Kelly Hartzell texts while  driving  a simulator as part of the  It Can Wait  campaign sponsored by AT&T at the school
Central York High School senior Kelly Hartzell texts while driving a simulator as part of the It Can Wait campaign sponsored by AT&T at the school Friday. The event highlighted the dangers of texting while driving. (Bill Kalina photo)

Central York High School sophomore Bryan Briggs, 15, sat behind the wheel of the car, with his friends looking on.

Briggs had his cell phone in his hands, one hand on the wheel, and a virtual display in a computerized visor over his eyes showing him a simulated driving experience.

Just like the student before him and the student after him - basically all the students - Bryan was trying to successfully text and "drive" at the same time in the simulated driving vehicle. And he failed.

And by failed, he hit a virtual pedestrian.

"I thought it would be easy to send a text ... and I hit a pedestrian," Bryan said.

Fortunately, in the simulated world, no one gets hurts, and students got to laugh all the accidents off.

Preston Koenig, a PEERS Awareness employee, gets a Central York High School student set up to try the texting-while-driving simulator Friday at the school.
Preston Koenig, a PEERS Awareness employee, gets a Central York High School student set up to try the texting-while-driving simulator Friday at the school. (Bill Kalina photo)

But AT&T, making a stop on its "It Can Wait" campaign, is hoping students take away the seriousness of distracted driving.

Thousands of crashes: More than 100,000 accidents a year involve someone texting, said AT&T spokeswoman Brandy Bell-Truskey.

The simulator shows real-life driving scenarios such as stop lights and cars changing lanes, with students asked to try to text and obey traffic laws at the same time.

Data after each test run showed some abysmal results, with most students guilty of at least swerving out of their lane.

Amber Wolf, 16, was sending a text of "Hey, what's up?" in the simulator and she crashed into a hill.

She and students cracked up, but she said later she also knows now have tough it is to text and drive at the same time.

"I'm not going to text," she vowed.

The goal is to eventually have texting and driving be given the same rigorous, preventative measures as drinking and driving, Bell-Truskey said.

"We want it to have the same stigma," she said.

State law: Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a former York City state representative, and state Rep. Keith Gillespie attended the event, as they had worked on the bill to ban teens from texting while driving.

The bill became law last year, although many Central students admitted they still text and drive sometimes.

"Whatever you are going to be texting, it can wait," DePasquale told students.

Adam Rutter, 16, agrees. He's on his learning permit, so his parents are always in the car when he drives.

Even then, he said, he won't be texting while driving. And Adam said he thinks after all of the students got to see how bad they really are at multi-tasking, they will do the same.

"It'll give them a chance to see it," Adam said.

An app: The importance of doing the simulator is reinforced by how pervasive cell phones are among teens.

Bell-Truskey pointed out AT&T doesn't provide a cell phone to use in the simulator, which is a compact car sitting in the high school's foyer.

"The kids are all using their own cell phones. Not one of these kids came without a cell phone. Not one," she said.

AT&T has an app teens or anyone can use to help limit distracted driving, available at att.com/drivemode. The app turns off incoming calls and messages except for emergency calls, and sends out a message to others that the person is driving and will respond later.

A documentary showing real-life tragedies of teens involved in fatal accidents because of texting, as well as other resources and a pledge not to text and drive, is available at itcanwait.com.

- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com

A pledge

AT&T launched its "It Can Wait" campaign in 2009. The website www.itcanwait.com provides an opportunity to take the don't text and drive pledge. It also offers a variety of educational resources and information on the issue, including an acclaimed documentary featuring families impacted by texting and driving accidents.