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Cellphone provider shows why texting, driving don’t mix

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, attempts to read and send text messages on a cell phone while driving, using a simulator provided by AT&T, Tuesday morning at the Capitol.

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, attempts to read and send text messages on a cell phone while driving, using a simulator provided by AT&T, Tuesday morning at the Capitol.

State Rep. Charlie Norr, D-Springfield, took a turn Tuesday morning with the AT&T company’s driving simulator, designed to show lawmakers why no one should try to send or receive text messages while driving.

But Norr said he didn’t really need the experience.

“About a year ago, my wife and I were going to a location that I didn’t know where it was,” he explained. “I told her, I’ll look at ‘Mapquest’ — which is kind of like texting.

“And I drove across a man’s yard — in a split second, I was over the curb and in a man’s yard.”

And that was driving down a Springfield street, at a normal speed.

“She forbids me from even looking at the phone while I’m in the car,” Norr said. “And I insist that people in my family turn them off (and) put (their phones) in the glove box if they don’t have a hands-free system.”

State Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, also tried the simulator — and said it helped her understand why she’s never been comfortable with the idea of texting and driving.

“It is very, very dangerous to do that,” she said. “Maybe you’re doing fine when you’re driving and you’re texting — but all it takes is that one light that changes on a dime, or one car that pulls out in front of you, unexpectedly.

“And either you, or somebody else, is hurt from that.”

She noted the distraction of trying to text and drive “affects your hearing. It affects every sense that you have, and you can’t concentrate on that road — especially when you’ve got people coming in and coming out — it’s too dangerous.”

Mike Haynes of Springfield, AT&T’s regional director for external affairs, visited with lawmakers and others as people used the simulator to see how well they could drive and deal with text messages.

“We are really trying to raise the awareness of texting and driving, and the dangers of distracted driving,” he explained. “This is a good way to have people go through that experience, on a simulator.”

He said the company’s “It Can Wait” campaign isn’t an effort to stop people from using the texting capabilities of cellphones and other devices AT&T provides.

“Texting while driving, under any conditions, is dangerous,” he said. “There’s been so many studies — we’ve done some of our own studies.

“And first responders and police can tell you, firsthand, some horrible accidents they’ve had to work, that involved texting and driving.”

He acknowledged that other distractions — such as eating, “messing” with a radio or CD player, arguing with a passenger, disciplining a child or talking on a cellphone — also can be dangerous.

But texting — which requires a driver to look away from the road to focus on the screen — is a big problem.

“We are very supportive of any law that restricts texting while driving,” Haynes said.

Norr wonders if lawmakers shouldn’t consider “something to have the authority of the police to remind people — by stopping them, or whatever — to stop curling your hair, stop texting and doing (other) things that are distracting. It really should be against the law.”

Lichtenegger noted Missouri already has a law making it illegal for people 21 and younger to send or read text messages while driving.

“I think once you get older than that, it comes to individual freedom — and whether that’s right or wrong, you can’t ‘nanny’ the world,” she said. “At some point in your life, you have to grow up and realize what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Haynes said the biggest part of the “It Can Wait” campaign is “awareness. Everyone, I think, knows that it’s dangerous to text and drive.”

He isn’t aware of any competitors’ efforts to send a similar message.

But AT&T offers a separate website, itcanwait.com, to help people learn more about the issue.

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