Text test has teens speechless

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerWhen drivers thumb a ride: Joel Talkoff

Joel Talkoff is an experienced driver, but sending a text message from behind the wheel proved too much for the 17-year-old Gateway High School senior Tuesday.

“It was challenging,” he said. “I was able to get the message out, but then I hit the biker.”

Freshman William Pitts, 15, also ran into trouble.

“A dog jumped out at me and I killed it,” he said. “I was focusing on texting, and it was kind of hard at the same time.”

“I crashed two seconds out,” confessed sophomore Cynthia Guzman, 16.

Luckily, the car the teens were driving wasn’t really on the road — the Hyundai sedan was hooked up to a virtual-reality simulator with goggles that projected a 3-D view of a residential street, complete with parked cars, cyclists, pedestrians and pets. The simulator, brought to the Western Addition high school  by AT&T as part of a national campaign, was designed to show young drivers just how dangerous it is to text and drive.

Capt. Dennis O’Leary, of the San Francisco Police Department’s Traffic Command, came along to reinforce the message that texting while driving is unsafe and illegal.

“It’s akin to driving under the influence,” he said. “I’m hoping this will get the message to these kids.”

Christian Eik, 16, a Gateway sophomore, said he hoped his peers would get the message as well. A few years ago, Eik said, he was almost run over on his way to school when a driver staring at her phone plowed through a crosswalk without looking up.

“It was scary,” he said. “If you’re driving, you have something that could kill somebody. I hope they get that, because I don’t want to get hit.”

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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