Crash course

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sophomore Emily Bazemore tries to navigate a golf cart around police cones while wearing beer goggles with her driver’s education teacher, Sara Smith, beside her during a distracted driving activity Tuesday at Nansemond River High School.

Students learn dangers of distracted driving

With one hand on the wheel and the other grasping a cell phone, Emily Bazemore struggled to keep control of her vehicle while she texted a friend to meet her at McDonald’s.

She was putting the finishing touches on the broken sentence, made up of abbreviations and cut-off words, when suddenly she felt her vehicle jolt and heard a loud “thump.”

Bazemore had hit one of the cones she’d been trying to dodge.

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“It was kind of scary,” she said. “It made me think of what it would be like if I actually hit someone.”

Fortunately, Bazemore wasn’t in a car — just a golf cart — and this was all just a test to demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving.

The sophomore was one of hundreds of driver’s education students at Nansemond River High School who hopped into the carts to attempt texting while driving and driving with beer goggles Tuesday.

“I know I’m never going to text and drive,” Bazemore said. “I might kill someone. I was so distracted.”

For the activity, students hopped into golf carts with a driver’s education instructor in the passenger seat.

First, they drove the course without any distractions.

Then, they picked up a phone and tried to text on a cell phone with a QWERTY keyboard while navigating around cones.

Finally, they put on beer goggles and tried one more time.

Sara Smith, who teaches physical and driver’s education at Nansemond River, said the exercise was designed to show the students how dangerous texting while driving and drunken driving are.

“We thought it would be good for the kids to see, in a safe environment, the risks,” she said. “Hopefully, this will show them it’s not as easy as they think it is.”

Most of the students have never been behind a wheel before, Smith said, which made the experience that much more complicated.

Britlee McPherson, who has no driving experience, said the activity showed her texting while driving is more difficult than she thought.

“I think I did terrible,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be so hard.”

McPherson said trying to text was the harder of the two tasks, but her classmate, Bryce Dargle, who has his learner’s permit, had more trouble with the beer goggles.

“It kind of made everything on your right look like it was on your left,” he said. “It was hard.”

Dargle said he thinks this was a good experience for teenagers, who don’t think twice about how dangerous distracted driving can be.

“Every person our age thinks they can do anything and not have consequences,” he said. “Now, they can really see what happens.”