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Teens get a high-tech distracted driving lesson

Monday - 10/17/2011, 5:53am  ET

One of the students strapped into the driving simulator in Arlington, Va. (WTOP/Max Smith)

Max Smith,

ARLINGTON, Va. - You know drinking and driving is bad, but did you know texting while driving can be just as risky?

On Sunday, students from Mt. St. Joseph High School in Baltimore and Battlefield High School in Haymarket got to experience the risks of texting while driving first hand.

The teens got into the driver's seat of a real car, that was hooked into a virtual reality simulator. They put on goggles to get the virtual reality view ahead of them, and used their cell phones to type text messages. It's all part of the programing for teens from across the country who are attending the National Organizations for Youth Safety National Distracted Driving Summit in Arlington.

"I went off the road five times in the other lane, and then I rear-ended somebody," Battlefield's Jack Taylor says. "I think I'm honestly going to change my driving."

Eli Scheele, with the Peer Foundation, ran the texting-and-driving event, pointing out that it's important for all drivers, not just teens, to pay attention to the road.

"[Texting] seems like such a simple activity, you know two seconds, but it really takes quite a bit of your brain power to do it," Scheele says.

He says texting increases your risk of crashing more than 23 times. That's equivalent to the risk of driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.16, double the legal limit.

Even if you just look down to read a text message, at highway speeds you can travel more than 100 feet each second - that's a football field every three seconds.

After hopping out of the simulator, the students agreed that it's something they need to avoid.

"A lot more difficult than you think," Jeffrey Scott says. "I couldn't even text well. I couldn't drive, and I couldn't text a good message."

"I've never driven off the road before while texting," a breathless Sommers Taylor says, "so I'm done texting while driving."

"I've seen a lot of people doing it, and I want to learn how to convince them to stop, how to fix the problem," Scott says.

Imani Key says she also came to the summit to help her classmates drive more safely.

"There's been a number of accidents at [Battlefield] with distracted driving, and tons of fatalities and stuff, and I definitely want to try and change that."

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