"Talk Text Crash" TxDOT Launches Distracted Driving Campaign

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Distracted-Driving Simulator

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is launching its “Talk Text Crash” campaign at the University of Houston. TxDOT hopes the month-long campaign will raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. Students were able to get behind the wheel of a driving simulator at the event to see how easy it can be to lose control when sending a text.

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I met Emil Helfer--student and frequent texter-- at the event. Typing on his phone while driving, admits Helfer, may not be such a smart idea. “It’s definitely not the best decision but sometimes it vibrates in your pocket and you have to get a hold of somebody.”

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Helfer is a graduate student at the University of Houston where he’s a month away from finishing his degree in Environmental Engineering. Helfer says he typically uses Bluetooth when he talks on his cell phone while driving, which he considers to be safer. But when it comes to text messages, well, most people don’t use hands-free technology for that.

Helfer says the majority of his friends use their phones behind the wheel, "because you’re on your phone all the time when you’re walking around, when you’re in class, which you probably shouldn't be. So you use your phone so much that it’s just part of you. Your car is part of you and so is your phone, so it’s like, go for it.”

Students like Helfer are the target of TxDOT’s campaign. Officials are hoping the event will stop them from using mobile devices or adjusting the stereo while driving. TxDOT spokesperson Deidrea Samuels says that in Texas, nearly one in four crashes involves a distracted driver.

“We want them to be aware that when they get behind the wheel, we want them to just drive," said Samuels. "They’re doing a lot of other things. They’re texting, they’re eating, and we just want to let them know the consequences of texting and driving.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the U.S. almost 5,500 people died in distracted driving-related crashes in 2009. That’s up six percent from 2005.

When I talked with grad student Helfer, he was behind the wheel of the driving simulator. He was in the process of sending a text.

Emil Helfer

He showed me how he does it, looking up and down, at the road, and at his phone. He said,  "sometimes in my car I can keep it out here," out in front.

Helfer didn't do too well staying in his own lane on the race track. “It definitely is very distracting, looking down and up,” acknowledged Helfer. Though, in his defense, he was driving on a computerized race car track at 90-plus miles an hour. Not the speed he says he usually travels. Still, he gets the point.

Well, kind of.

“I’ll try not to text while I’m "driving-driving" too much. But if I’m at a stop-light or something, that’s when I’ll usually send a text,” he says.

Well TxDOT, it looks like you may have your work cut out for you.

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