JOHNSTOWN - Throughout the day Thursday, Johnstown students drove into cars, trees, pedestrians and other things as they simulated texting and driving or drinking and driving. Fortunately, this only happened on a computer.
In a demonstration to the juniors and seniors of Johnstown High School, the Arrive Alive Tour, a group that tours the country to show people the effects of driving while drunk or texting, let youths get behind the wheel of an automobile and drive as part of a simulation.
The tour visits schools and colleges to heighten awareness to the dangers.
Stephanie Etherton of Johnstown High School attempts to drive while texting in a simulation brought to he school by the Arrive Alive tour.
The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland
The demonstration at Johnstown came just days before the junior prom.
The demonstration, run by Patrick Sheehy, a member of Arrive Alive, parked a car with a computer and a simulation program set up.
For the texting simulation, students looked through a pair of LCD display goggles. The "drivers" head down a suburban road, following a mostly straight road with some turns. The driver then is told to text while driving once they reach the speed limit of 45 mph. Many of the students ended up swerving or running over a crossing pedestrian.
Students also wore goggles to simulate driving while intoxicated.
According to Sheehy, texting is considered more dangerous than drunken driving.
"Which would you rather have drive you, someone who had three drinks or someone who was blindfolded?" Sheehy asked.
Sheehy said he has spoken with many students who said they will text while driving, saying they use their knees or forearms to steer the wheel.
"I'm like, 'are you crazy?'" Sheehy said.
For every one drunk-driving incident, there are four texting-while-driving incidents, he said.
Sheehy said he was involved in an accident when he was 18 years old. He and a friend were driving home the day after a party. They were sober. Sheehy had reached over to change the radio station and he went off the side of the road and off a cliff before hitting a tree.
Sheehy said his head went through the windshield and his friend was thrown around the car.
"He survived too. ... He wasn't happy, and I could have killed him," Sheehy said.
"It takes two seconds to change your life. I got really lucky. Most people don't," Sheehy said.
JHS student Stephanie Etherton drove while texting in the simulator. She swerved several times and was caught speeding.
Etherton said she has seen friends drive while texting.
Tracy Divya, who will supervise the post-prom events Saturday, invited Arrive Alive to the school after receiving donations to host the program. She said the school wants teens to make the proper decisions.
Principal Michael Beatty was happy with the program Thursday, saying he watched several students drive in the simulator.
"I think it is an issue with teenagers," Beatty said. "I would not be surprised to drive down the road and see a teenager texting. They are teenagers, it's a new toy to them."
Arthur Cleveland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.