Distracted driving can mean many things, but most of the accidents result from texting while driving. But a car traveling at highway speeds can travel the distance of a football field in the three to five seconds it takes to glance away, so even changing a radio station or glancing down at a smart phone can cause an accident.
For five days in July, visitors at Liberty Science Center got a lesson they may never forget: a virtual reality display of the consequences of distracting driving.
Located in the lobby of the Science Center, the large box isn’t much to look at from the outside – although a map of lights shows the hundreds of places nationwide where someone died as a result of a distracted driver.
“This is called the AT&T Memorial Wall that shows a visitor at a glance the impact of distracting driving, including the date and city where the event took place,” said Michael Stephenson, a spokesperson for AT&T.
Perhaps more chilling is the display on another side of the box where car keys hang, also indicating someone who has perished.
“This is about the power a key has when you start your car,” he said. “People need to remember they are never alone on the road.”
But the real lesson is inside the box. There, you sit down and put on a virtual reality headset and enter into a ghostly world that brings you too close to the impact of a car crash, then hear testimonials by 3D avatars telling of some tragic event.
Liberty Science Center is one stop on the AT&T 2018 “It can wait” tour, designed to warn people about distracted driving, and tell them to hesitate before texting until they can do it safely.
Research shows that nearly 9 in 10 people admit using their smart phone while driving, and many are doing much more than merely texting.
The virtual reality box allows visitors to come face to face with the very real dangers of districting driving.
“Life changes for everybody involved in one of these,” Stephenson said.
“The main goal is to save lives.” – Michael Stephenson
AT&T worked with filmmakers like Werner Herzog to develop a documentary and national advertising featuring real life stories of lives drastically altered as a result of texting while driving accidents.
The AT&T program was launched in 2010 and the current tour is part of a 200-city nationwide tour, stopping in Newark, as well as Rutherford.
“Hundreds of people die and thousands of crashes occur every year from smart phone use while driving, which is why this campaign is so important in New Jersey and across America,” said J. Michael Schweder, president of AT&T Mid-Atlantic. “We want to work with communities to help raise awareness and save lives.”
The 3D film presents the avatars of survivors telling their stories, the pain of survivors, and the regrets of those who were behind the wheel in some of the crashes.
Since AT&T is a major provider of cell phone service in the United States, they want to get people to pledge to avoid texting while driving.
Nearly 25 million have pledged so far to the “It Can Wait” campaign. But AT&T’s program also evaluates how each state’s anti-texting laws impact the rate of texting while driving, and provides a free AT&T DriveMode app that has already been downloaded more than 20 million times.
“The exhibit travels to high schools, universities, street festivals, government offices, and other places,” Stephenson said. “The main goal is to save lives.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.