BY MILLICENT MCKAY
Nov. 17, 2016
Constable Robb Hartlen stands watching his text messages and waits for a reply. The message bubble goes up and down and finally a reply comes.
On the sending end is a teenager sitting behind a steering wheel of a moving vehicle.
“Distracted driving is becoming more prevalent every day,” said Hartlen.
“People are becoming more aware of the fines. Before the phone would be propped up on the steering wheel, but now people are holding their phones lower trying to hide it. It’s becoming an even more dangerous practice.”
To combat the growing trend, Hartlen and other officers of the Kensington Police Department set up a course in the Kensington Intermediate Senior High school parking lot to show young drivers just how hard it is to text and drive.
“So we set up this figure eight kind of course and the person has two laps to drive a go-kart to get a feel for it.
“Then after they warm up, I’ll send them two text messages. The first one is a statement like, ‘Trees are green, so are frogs’ and then the second one is a question like, ‘name a famous frog that’s green’.”
After that, the driver has one lap to read and reply to the question.
“They’re answering the texts, but not well. There’s misspelt words or they just don’t make sense. I’m enjoying the replies.”
The aim is to show young drivers that something has to give, he said.
“Sadly, it’s going to be you or your car, the next car, a tree, or even a person.”
Sixteen-year-old Bethany Spencer tried her hand at the course and managed not to crash into any pylons.
“It was more difficult than I thought it would be. It was hard to glance down and read the message and actually reply,” she said.
Spencer has a learner’s level license.
“It’s an important lesson, but they also came up with a really cool way for people to experience it in a safe environment.”
Hilary Bernard, 16, also has her learner’s and tried the simulation. However, she had a series of mishaps throughout the trial.
“Before the text messages I thought I was doing well. But then when I had to start replying I dropped my phone before I even got the chance to look at the text.”
From there she dropped her phone a few more times and ran into multiple pylons.
“I almost missed a turn and kept hitting things. I don’t recommend texting and driving.”
Now she turns her phone to mute and puts it out of reach when she is driving.
“Those pylons I hit could have been a person. I’m glad that people are learning that their actions have consequences.”