Studies have shown that about 25 percent of all auto accidents are caused by cell phone use—drivers either talking, surfing the Internet or texting. But Officer Jon Fritz of the Montgomery Police Department thinks that number may be low.
“I think it’s more like 50 percent,” Fritz said.
Fritz has close-up knowledge of the problem. He’s the lead officer in the department’s distracted driving enforcement efforts, and he’s seen how often distractions, such as cell phones, can lead to fender-benders and worse.
On Saturday, Fritz joined two of his fellow Montgomery police officers (Sgt. Armando Sanders and Ofc. Ashley Mauer) at the Oswego Public Library’s Montgomery branch, on Reading Drive. And they brought with them a driving simulator provided by AAA, designed to teach people about the dangers of texting and driving.
The simulator, a steering wheel and set of pedals in front of three computer monitors, provided a realistic driving experience, according to the people who tried it out on Saturday. As soon as the volunteers became comfortable with the system, Fritz would instruct them to pick up their phones and write a text message.
When this reporter tried it, he ran off the road and crashed into a guardrail. Sirens, a red flash, game over.
But as Fritz will tell you, distracted driving is no game. As part of his presentation on Saturday, Fritz showed a video produced by AT&T and entitled “The Last Text,” which included interviews with survivors of texting and driving accidents, and relatives of those who did not survive.
In these cases, it was the smallest, most inconsequential text messages that proved fatal. “LOL.” “Where U At.” “Yeah.”
Composing text messages and driving, Fritz said, are both complex actions, requiring concentration. And doing one takes precious mental energy away from the other.
“No matter how good you think you are, you can’t do both at the same time,” he said.
The driving simulator on hand Saturday is one of five in the state of Illinois, Mauer said. The Montgomery Police Department will set up the simulator during this year’s Montgomery Fest, on August 11 and 12.
In Illinois, drivers under 19 are not allowed to use cell phones while behind the wheel. Cell phones are also illegal in construction and school zones. Texting and driving is illegal, and in Montgomery, will net you a $120 ticket, Fritz said.
But more than saving you money, putting away the cell phone could save your life.
“If (a text message) is that important, pull over,” he said. “People think, ‘I’m in a hurry, I have no time.’ But the alternative could be you end up not making it where you’re going. You end up going to the morgue.”
“No phone call or text message is worth your life,” he said.