Driving simulator raises awareness against texting, driving

Anna White, freshman in kinesiology, uses the "just drive" simulator at the K-State Student Union on Nov. 15, 2016. (Payton Heinze | The Collegian)

Students at Kansas State gathered today with representatives from AT&T, the Kansas Insurance Department and Miss Kansas to take the pledge to stop texting and driving and to try the driving simulator.

According to the Kansas Insurance Department’s website, a AAA poll showed that 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent admit to doing it regardless.

“The simulator is here today to give college students here at K-State the opportunity to experience firsthand the dangers of driving while distracted,” Katie Koupal, area manager of external affairs for AT&T, said.

Koupal said it is a virtual reality simulator that responds to your every move and feels just like you are driving a car.

“The simulator felt real, it made my heart speed up,” said Megan Varhola, Union Program Council graduate adviser and graduate student in accounting. “It was just like a real-life experience.”

Damarea Haney, freshman in life sciences, said she thought the event was beneficial.

“I feel like this event is very beneficial because many people probably don’t pay attention to the dangers that come with texting and driving,” Haney said.

Haney said going through the simulator was a good experience. She said her mom was in a three-car accident, so she is taking the pledge to not text and drive.

“I just want people to know that accidents happen all the time, so this is something you should be serious about and don’t text and drive,” Haney said.

The “It Can Wait” campaign has been running for six years, Koupal said, and is hoping to have 16 million pledges by the end of 2016.

“About a year and a half ago our commissioner talked to the insurance commissioner in South Carolina and they said they did a contest between the University of South Carolina and Clemson, to see who could get the most pledges to stop texting and driving,” Lacey Kennett, assistant to the commissioner, said.

Kennett said each of the schools were able to get about 13,000 pledges, so they decided to do the contest here in Kansas.

The sponsors for the contest included State Farm, AAA, the Department of Transportation, AT&T and also Miss Kansas.

“It’s really an important thing to the commissioner because insurance premiums for auto insurance, every time there is an accident it drives everybody’s rates up,” Kennett said.

He said it is important that people try to keep crashes and distractions to a minimum to keep everyone’s auto insurance premiums as low as they can and so that everyone stays safe.

Along with K-State, the University of Kansas, Fort Hays State, Wichita State, Washburn University, Pittsburg State and Emporia State are all competing for the most pledges to not text and drive.

According to Kennett, K-State has the most pledges so far.

Varhola said she thinks the competition among the universities will be exciting.

“It’s really good to raise awareness and the competition between the universities I think will be exciting,” Varhola said. “It’s always nice to beat KU in something.”

Kendall Schoenekase, Miss Kansas 2016, said it was a personal experience that led her to campaigning against texting and driving.

“I was in a car crash about two years ago due to texting and driving, so the issue I’m very passionate about promoting is stay alive, don’t text and drive,” Schoenekase said.

She said that was the first time her eyes were opened to the severity of the situation.

“It’s really scary and everyone’s life is at risk,” Schoenekase said.

When she won Miss Kansas, she decided to use it as her platform and educate people in the state. She partnered with many organizations across the state to push the message.

Koupal said she would like everyone to know that no text, no email, no Snapchat, no Facebook nor anything else is worth risking your life or others on the road.

If you are willing to take the pledge, Koupal said you can do so on the website itcanwait.org. You can also help K-State earn more pledges to not text and drive by texting WILDCAT to 50555.