AC takes distracted driving head-on

Jacob McGee, a criminal justice major, spends time between classes having a few laughs with friends. He receives help from DisAbility Services.

Did you know that the fines for using a handheld device while driving in Amarillo can range from $200 to $500? On Sept. 8, the Texas Department of Transportation and AT&T “It Can Wait” campaign teamed together on the Amarillo College Washington Street Campus to bring driving awareness to students and show the dangers of distracted driving. TxDOT provided a work truck on campus along with a driving simulator installed into a Ford Explorer so students could experience the simulator with both physical distractions and those included in the computer program. Physical distractions included mutable conversations, emails, text messages and phone calls.The simulator was developed and used in Dallas-Fort Worth area schools and travels around the United States. TxDOT also gave out “care packages” at the event. Pamphlets, booklets and brochures were included as well as a Texas travel guide, event calendar, 2015 Texas travel map and a Panhandle-Plains Wildlife Trail brochure. Also included in the “care packages” were on-the-road hints and safety tips.The simulator included many real-life obstacles. The speed limit was 45 mph throughout the test. The simulator included oncoming traffic, buildings, four-way intersections, emergency vehicles, pedestrians, trees and other obstacles. There also were construction zones and pedestrians jaywalking. Cpl. Scott Acker of the AC Police Department said he wants students to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving. “All we can do is get the word out,” Acker said. “It’s a behavioral change. If you bring awareness, you will be less likely to injure yourself or others, less property damage and less tickets. “The purpose is to bring attention to our youth to not use their phones while driving.” Kristin Arguelles, a nursing major, volunteered to drive the simulator. “>Alex Malteus, a math major, said the simulator could use some updates. “I don’t feel it was realistic,” Malteus said. “Steering was tough, and I couldn’t stay straight. There was too much social interaction, and the simulator had too much going on at once.“I think they need to make it more realistic and make it easier to turn the steering wheel without as much force. The brakes were slow. The accelerator was touchy, which made it easy to speed.” A TxDOT representative explained the reasoning behind the differences between real life driving and the simulator. “The brake system is based on pressure since it is hooked into a non-operational vehicle, and steering is based on the terrain on the simulator. We tried to make it as realistic as possible without having people in the car in the real world.” In Amarillo, if you are driving, it’s against the law to use a handheld device. According to recent studies, in Texas, there is a crash every 24 seconds due to distracted driving caused by cell phone use alone. More than 8 percent of all crashes and 60 percent of highway fatalities are the result of distracted drivers. That is 1.6 million crashes annually that occur due to cell phone usage while driving and another million due to texting while driving.Tracy Tallon of TxDOT started the campaign at AC last year. “We want to raise awareness about distractions when driving,” Tallon said. “When someone is distracted and drives, they are four times more likely to get in a wreck while talking on their cellphones and eight times more likely to get in a wreck while texting.“It is the same as being intoxicated. We’re here to bring awareness to these dangers. If you talk or text, you crash. When you’re in the car, just drive.”

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