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First-Person: CSUF students practice texting and driving with University Police Officer

Two of my friends and a police officer cling to the edge of the golf cart as I dangerously speed through a course filled with orange traffic cones while attempting to type “I love Cal State Fullerton” into my phone.

Normally, you would not text and drive with a police officer’s supervision but Officer Thomas Perez from the University Police was encouraging it in order to teach a group of students the dangers of distracted driving.

On a recent November morning, the students in professor Robert Quezada’s feature article writing class gathered in Cal State Fullerton’s Parking Lot A South. The lot was turned into a narrow driving course with the help of CSUF’s Community Service Officer’s team and Perez. Perez told the students the dangers of distracted driving.

“How many of you text and drive?” he asked.

I raised my hand with guilt. My peers raised their hands as well, which goes to show how common distracted driving is.

He even admitted that he does not cite people for texting and driving, but rather warns them, because he texts and drives himself. This is honorable of Perez because he sees more value in teaching drivers to be more careful, rather than be hypocritical and write up citations to distracted drivers.

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Students gather around Officer Perez for a quick introduction about the activity on Nov. 15th, 2019.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines distracted driving as, “Any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system – anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”

I am guilty of performing all of those activities. Eating while driving is my biggest culprit. I should probably reconsider choosing to eat my Chick-fil-A nuggets with Polynesian dipping sauce over the safety of other drivers and pedestrians.

Distracted driving can lead to fatal accidents. The NHTSA also says that distracted driving claimed 3,166 lives in 2017. From these statistics, I can see why Perez educates drivers and college students about the harm caused by distracted driving.

The rules for the activity were simple. Perez told us to try to drive the four-passenger golf cart through the obstacle course, without running over the orange cones, while attempting to text “I love Cal State Fullerton” into our phone. We also had to drive the golf cart at a speed of at least 10 mph.

After Perez finished giving instructions, three people at a time hopped in the golf cart to begin the drive. I noticed that students who drove at a lower speed seemed to type most of the message. Some hit a few cones, eager to attempt the course again. Others felt excited that they did not hit any cones and typed the full message.

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Two cones hit by a student on Nov. 15th, 2019. Many students struck down and ran over cones while they drove through the course.

The other students and I observed that many classmates drove at a low speed. Driving the cart that slow was unrealistic compared to how fast people drive on the real road. I wanted to be more practical and be a rebel by trying to drive the cart at a higher speed.

Now it was my turn to drive. I hopped in, adjusted the seat to my comfort, and prepared to drive with my iPhone in my right hand. Perez said not to forget my seatbelt – how disastrous that might have been, considering how fast I was planning to drive.

I pressed my right foot down hard on the pedal and the cart’s speed increased higher. The first turn on the S-shaped course was not too difficult. However, during the final turn of the course, with one hand on the wheel, I strongly whipped the cart to avoid the cones. Most of my classmates were standing by the final stretch of the course. As the cart turned, I heard gasps and shrieks of horror.

“Scariest ride of my life,” said Elizabeth Manzo, who sat in the back seat while I drove.

It was definitely a ride to remember. I was driving so fast that Perez told me to slow down a few times. I was not able to finish the text message. All I typed was “I loove”.

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A photo of me preparing to drive the golf cart through the S-shaped obstacle course on Nov. 15th, 2019. Photo taken by Elizabeth Manzo.

However, my goal was to be more realistic and see how much of the text message I could type. After this exercise, I am not confident in my abilities to text and drive. The thought of risking my life and the lives of other drivers just to reply back to someone sounds terrifying.

“This was definitely an eye opener. I drive with my daughter in the back seat every day and I would never want to put her in danger just because I need to answer a call or reply to a text,” said Alyss Chacon.

Although this activity was fun to do, I also learned about the severity of distracted driving. Whether I’m texting my best friends, eating Chick-fil-A, or choosing which song to play next, nothing is worth jeopardizing my safety or the safety of others.

 

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