MODESTO — It could have been bad. It could have been really bad. But young drivers who ran red lights, skidded around corners and slammed into other cars Tuesday got up and walked away, a little sheepishly, giving classmates a turn at the simulator.
The teens' reaction times, video-game skills and sobriety never were in question. Blame a small mobile device that kept beeping participants with gotta-read insistence. They were texting.
More than 300 Enochs High students 14- and 15-year-old freshmen yet to get their driver's licenses went through the AT&T No Texting While Driving presentation Tuesday, a video and hands-on program designed to send its own message.
"No text is worth dying over. It can wait," said AT&T spokesman Eric Johnson.
"I would wait. I wouldn't text," said student Brittney Mendoza. Garrett Nance said switching back and forth, watching the road and the phone, was difficult.
Most of Tuesday's carnage happened while kids were sending back one-word answers, without even checking to see if the word was legible. Real-world texters generally have a lot more to say.
Those wandering eyes and off-task moments add up to this: Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to crash than drivers who keep their fingers on the wheel; they're involved in more than 100,000 crashes a year.
The 10-minute video was really sad, said freshman Jessica Poechhacker, who said she's driven with texting drivers who made her feel unsafe. But realistically, she said, "I probably will, sometime in my lifetime."
Christian Kiryakous joked about keeping "one eye on the screen, one on the road." But seriously, he added, "Normally, I don't think it's a smart idea."
Fellow faux driver Wil-liam Hamilton said he got a virtual ticket for running a red light. It's a common problem; texters are 11 times more likely to not notice a light has changed.
These students are in Angie Millan's health class, where conflict resolution and driving safety are covered, as well as traditional nutrition, sex education and anti-drug curriculum.
Johnson said AT&T's program travels far and wide, but teens are the key audience. "We live in a connected world now. People, particularly young people, need to understand the dangers of texting while driving," he said.
Texters need to put down the phone, he said, and there's an app for that. Called "DriveMode," it turns off the beeps and buzzes that pull drivers' eyes toward the screen and sends a silent auto-message that the text recipient is driving. On automatic, it turns on whenever the GPS senses the phone is moving faster than 25 mph, Johnson said.
On the Net: AT&T program for teens, http://itcanwait.com.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.