By Byron Tollefson SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Eileen Taveras was walking through Destiny USA on Wednesday afternoon when a woman wearing a AAA shirt approached her. The woman, Elizabeth Carey, held a pair of virtual reality goggles in her hands.
Carey explained to Taveras that inside the goggles was a virtual reality simulation. If she put on the goggles, Taveras would experience driving a car.
Taveras agreed and put on the goggles. She said that in the simulation, she kept receiving text messages while driving the car. After repeated close calls of accidents, Taveras said by the end of the experience, she was killed by an oncoming car because she had her phone out.
“It scared the life out of me,” Taveras said. “Putting on the goggles let me see how dangerous texting while driving is, with my own eyes.”
Taveras was one of many visitors outside of AT&T’s store on Apr. 19. AT&T, AAA, and the New York State Police teamed up to raise awareness during Distracted Driving Month. A report released by AAA last week ranked New York State first in the nation in distracted driving incidents. Onondaga County was listed as one of the top counties in the state in these accidents.
Carey said that the timing of the event couldn’t have been in any better.
“The weather is also getting warmer so more pedestrians will be outside,” Carey said. “Kids are getting out of school soon and driving more.”
More than 431,000 crashes occur a year because of distracted driving, according to AT&T research. 7 out of 10 people check their phone while driving.
According to the New York State Police, 150 state fatal accidents were due to “driver inattention.”
Lindsay Hawkins, who also works for AAA, said that drivers are 8 times more likely to crash when they text. Although people understand the dangers, they still do it anyways.
“If you look at your phone for just 2 seconds, you double your crash rate,” Hawkins said. “People realize it’s dangerous but it’s still so tempting to grab the phone.”
Carey said the simulator, specifically the scene at the end where the person brutally crashes, hit home with others like it did with Taveras.
“With virtual reality, people today saw the devastation with their own eyes,” Carey said. “Seeing it yourself can really make a difference. It shows the reality of what can happen.
Hawkins offered some advice in order to resist the temptation to check the phone.
“I tell my students at AAA driving school to put the phone in the truck ahead of time,” Hawkins said. “This way, they’re not tempted to look at it.”