By Todd Martin

    Driving drunk is incredibly dangerous, but driving while talking on the phone is statistically even more dangerous.

    Still, those distracted behaviors don’t come close to the risks associated with attempting to read, write and send text messages while driving.

    State Auto Insurance Company is sharing the message of distracted driving dangers at high schools across Killeen ISD and giving students the chance to try out a video driving simulator that mimics distracted driving.

    State Auto External Relations Director Errica Rivera presented the facts in two assemblies Monday with juniors and seniors at Harker Heights High School.

    The simulator, which resembles a car seat facing a video screen, is set up on the school cafeteria stage for student use this week.

    The assembly and simulator will move on to Ellison, Shoemaker, Killeen, the Career Center, Pathways and Early College High School through next month.

    The chance of getting into a car wreck increases 400 percent when someone is driving drunk. That percentage rises to 500 percent when using a hands-free device to talk on the phone.

    When texting and driving, the chance of getting into a wreck skyrockets by 2,400 percent, according to statistics Rivera shared with students.

    Texting and driving became an illegal activity in Texas last September 1, joining 46 other states.

    Getting caught texting and driving can result in a misdemeanor offense. However, Rivera pointed out, causing a wreck through texting and driving can result in a fine and jail time.

    Distracted driving is not exclusive to texting or even cell phones.

    While engaging students at Harker Heights High School, Rivera agreed with student comments that music, eating and passengers can cause distractions for drivers. Behavior like putting on makeup or picking up a dropped French fry can, too.

    Understanding a little of how the brain works helps explain the dangers of distracted driving.

    The brain’s normal processing function includes discarding information. “The brain doesn’t like to be focused,” she said, explaining that it desires entertainment, switching to different thoughts and ideas and functions.

    The term “multitasking,” Rivera said, is an inaccurate description of how the human brain works.

    “We task switch,” she said, explaining that though it seems like we’re doing many things at once, we’re actually continuously switching, requiring the brain to assign importance to tasks.

    “We create primary and secondary tasks,” she said. “We’re not even aware we’re taking on too much.”

    Just carrying on a conversation in a car while driving increases the chance of a wreck from 200 to 600 percent.

    The ring or buzz cell phones make actually causes release of the pleasure-inducing chemical dopamine, making it particularly difficult to stop the enjoyable habits that bring distraction, Rivera explained.

    Putting aside the phone and urging passengers to avoid distraction doesn’t just change traffic patterns, she said to students, it changes lives and saves lives.

    January 8, 2018

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