Morgan Schwahn learned about the dangers of distracted driving the easy way.
Schwahn, 15, of Streator, took part in a driving simulation at Woodland High School where she was asked to respond to text messages on a provided phone while she drove a virtual car.
Her vehicle crossed the median a few times while she read paragraphs of text on the small screen and her head darted back up to the roadway.
The simulation ended in a head-on collision with a vehicle in the other lane.
“It was very scary,” Schwahn said.
She noted it was difficult to comprehend what was in the message as well as follow the road.
A real-world scenario would have led to more disastrous consequences than a black screen, said Mike Campbell of the Save A Life Tour, which travels around the country and abroad warning of the dangers of distracted and impaired driving.
Campbell said someone can look down at their phone for a second and by the time their head has raised the environment could be completely different.
He described the length of time it takes for a fatal accident to happen with the snap of his fingers.
“That’s how quickly a good night can turn into a bad one,” Campbell said.
Campbell said it’s a message that transcends age groups, but mentioned the leading cause of death in teenagers is distracted driving.
He noted some drivers may text and drive and think it’s safe as they don’t wind up in accidents, but argued they likely don’t notice the mistakes they are making.
Impaired driving is a close second, according to Campbell, and a second simulation was available to expose students to the effects drinking alcohol and other drugs have on reaction time.
The second simulator was designed to increase delayed responses while navigating a city.
Jordan Keith, 16, of Long Point, stepped up to the simulator and managed to drive the roads fairly well for awhile.
He had a couple close calls with the curb and other cars, but later wasn’t able to turn quick enough to avoid a building.
“I was really sluggish trying to turn out of the parking lot,” Keith said.
Both students said the simulations gave them an idea as to how quickly accidents on the roads can happen and other students both with and without driver’s licenses had their turn at the wheel.
Campbell said many students value their independence after leaving high school, but a bad decision before or while driving can take that away.
He explained that the accidents can lead to probation or the loss of a vehicle, which can make it difficult to get a job. They can also lead to fatalities both in their vehicle and those around them.
Assistant Principal Jake Burcenski said he hopes students take the presentation to heart as he knows the impact it can have on a family. He told students during the event that he lost an aunt to drunk driving.
“We try to make this real because it happens,” Burcenski said. “Don’t be a statistic.”
A video reenactment of vehicular crashes was shared with the class and Campbell implored students to not only drive safe themselves but to spread the message to others.
He hopes the experience will curb the potential of future bad driving habits.
“If you learn this the hard way, you may not get a second chance,” Campbell said.