Wartburg students learn dangers of distracted driving

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Tennessee Department of Safety says in 2010, 918 crashes in the state were caused by someone in the car using a cell phone, many of those occurring on rural roads.

During the first Rural Teen Driver Education Program, UT students are trying to prevent East Tennessee teens from ever picking up the habit.

It has dangerous and sometimes deadly outcomes. That's why these Wartburg Central High School students are getting a life lesson about distracted driving.

"We believe it's really important because you only have one life to live. It just takes a half of a second and you're off the roadway and you hit a tree and you lose your life just like that," says Ryan Overton, a Ph.D. student at the University of Tennessee, who is helping host the drivers' education course for rural teens.

The students are putting these teens behind the wheel of this simulator so they understand the unique safety issues drivers face on rural roads.

"Wildlife or anything could come out in front of you, you could miss a curve and easily run off the roadway," says Overton.

Which is what he says happens on the simulator.

"I give them an audible command, to text I love the University of Tennessee, and while they're doing that, we have programmed a deer to walk in front of them."

Madison Ward says it's difficult.

"Trying to text and drive and trying to concentrate and keeping on the road and not crashing, it was pretty hard."

So Volunteer TV's Allison Kropff sat in the drivers seat. And while texting, she hit the deer.

"It's pretty scary sitting behind the wheel and being involved in a scenario like a deer jumping in front of your car, and you're texting. A lot of the students that are part of this simulation hope that's something they can avoid when they get in a real vehicle," says Kropff.

"Be safe drivers, to go the speed limit, and not text and drive," says Ward.

A priceless education these students hopefully learn students before they hit the road.

"The more that we can spread the word, the more lives we can save," says Overton.

The UT students will gather the data and then go to Wartburg Central and talk to the students about their individual results.

They hope seeing how they individually perform will hit home with each student and keep them from using their cell phone while driving.

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