A text message pops up on a driver’s cell phone. Seconds later, the car crashes into another and the driver is killed.
This is the scene depicted in the 3-D simulator installed on Canalside on Wednesday as part of AT&T’s “It Can (All) Wait” campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of using a phone while driving.
This issue is not virtual. It is very real.
“Right now, as we are talking, and at any moment, approximately 660,000 drivers in America are using cell phones while driving,” State Police Maj. Steven A. Nigrelli said.
The simulator consists of a car-like machine, a helmet and a pair of headphones that immerse users in a three-dimensional world to help them feel like they are driving the car.
Sounds and images help create a very graphic experience whereby the user can understand the dangers of looking at a phone while driving. Users of the simulator on Wednesday tried to avoid hitting three-dimensional pedestrians and bikers, and were alarmed during the final scene, when the vehicle crashed into another car.
“People take their eyes off the road while texting for five seconds on average. That’s like driving through a football field blindfolded,” said Benjamin B. Roberts, director of public affairs at AT&T.
The simulator will make 300 stops nationwide this summer during the “100 deadliest days” between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The number of car accidents peaks during this period, according to AAA. One out of four car accidents is caused by cellphone use, making driving while distracted the first cause of car accidents nationwide, according to the National Safety Council.
A lot of people admit to using a cellphone while driving and seem to think that it is less dangerous than drinking and driving, Roberts said.
“We are trying to catch a stigma,” he added.
The simulator is part of an educational mission targeting mainly teenagers and new drivers, who tend to use their phones the most for texting, but also taking photos and videos or looking at social media.
The new Pokemon Go phenomenon is a new reason for people to take their eyes off the road. The app caused a crash Tuesday night in Auburn, Cayuga County.
The simulator is aimed at creating awareness among adults, too, Roberts said. They also confess to using their phones while driving, though they tend to scroll through emails during the morning commute. That sets a bad example for their kids, who will then do the same, he said.
As part of the AT&T campaign, nine million people across the country already have pledged not to use their phones while driving. Hopefully, the simulator will help make people more conscious about the dangers of looking at a device while driving.
“We understand that your emails, selfies, text messages or phone calls are important, but they are not as important as your life or the one of others,” Nigrelli said.
He also pointed out that the penalty for using a phone while driving in New York is five points on your license and a fine between $400 and $500.