By Kimberlei Davis
The Times and Democrat
It’s a 21st century fact of life: millions of American motorists now use cell phones when they’re driving.
Whether it’s talking, texting, tweeting or emailing, motorists are driving distracted.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, people who use a cell phone while driving are four times more likely to be in injury-causing traffic crashes. The National Safety Council estimates that there are about 636,000 crashes each year that can be linked to cell phone use while driving.
The Claflin University community experienced just how real those statistics are during a demonstration last month. AT&T teamed up with the university in the “It Can Wait” campaign.
Aimed at driving home the dangers of texting and driving, AT&T brought a virtual reality simulator to Panther Plaza. It allowed students, faculty, staff and the university’s president the chance to see firsthand why this practice is so dangerous.
“As we approach the holiday season, it is important that we heighten attention with regards to safe driving,” Claflin University President Dr. Henry N. Tisdale said. “We are especially concerned about distracted drivers who text and talk and of course the deadliest killer of them all, driving under the influence.”
Ted Creech, a member of the university’s board of trustees, said the basic message behind the “It Can Wait” campaign is “any text, email or web-surfing you want to do can wait until you are finished driving.”
Creech is also AT&T’s director of external affairs for South Carolina. He has found that the act of pledging not to text and drive can help change the behavior.
“AT&T works hard to deliver communication services and applications to our customers every day,” Creech noted. “However, we want customers to use our products and services safely.”
Tisdale, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler, City Council member Liz Zimmerman Keitt and 150 students and faculty and staff members signed the “It Can Wait” pledge.
Lance Cpl. Judd Jones with South Carolina Highway Patrol was at the event performing several simulations to demonstrate what vision and reaction time is like after you’ve reached the state’s legal blood alcohol content limit of .08.
DUI simulation goggles allowed the wearers the opportunity to experience a realistic simulation of driving while impaired.
For some students, it was a painful reminder of how important it is to stay focused on the road and not get behind the wheel after drinking.
Freshmen mass communications major Alex Speid participated in the simulations and said while he has never been drunk, “it was pretty intense.”
“It was an eye opener for me, seeing how limited my vision was and how drunk driving can really affect your total body and the resulting consequences after making such choices,” he said.
Brandon Darby, a senior human performance and recreation major, admitted that in the past he has been guilty of texting and driving.
After participating in the DUI simulation, Darby said he felt “woozy and disorientated.”
He said, “It wasn’t a good feeling and it was scary to think objects were directly in front of you and they really weren’t.”
Creech said adults have a huge responsibility of setting a good example.
“We are trying to make it as socially unacceptable as possible,” he said. “If you’re a passenger in a car and the driver is distracted or impaired, take responsibility for your life and the safety of others.”
“With the help of AT&T and the South Carolina Highway Patrol, our students, faculty and staff are getting the message and have the message driven home about the importance of safe driving,” Tisdale said. “It could not be more important, it could not be more timely.”
The “It Can Wait” campaign includes more than 200 partners nationwide, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile US, Inc. and Verizon. Individuals can sign up at www.ItCanWait.com to get resources that will help them share their commitment not to text and drive.