Avoiding the wreck

LIHUE — Mommy, I don’t like that radio station. Change it.

The comment, coming from a passenger, triggers distracted driving.

“The light turned yellow, and this guy started crossing the street,” said Yvonne Kerwin. “I pressed on the brake. The car slowed, but only a little. Wow! I totally hit someone!”

Kerwin was one of many people who stopped by the distracted driving simulator set up by Servco Kauai and the state’s Department of Transportation Saturday at the Kukui Grove Center.

Distracted driving is described as any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract them from the primary task of driving and increasing the risk of crashing, said Ali Yamashita of TLC PR representing the Department of Transportation.

The distraction can range from talking or texting on a cell phone, grooming, eating or drinking, changing radio stations, or even talking to passengers.

“This is so good,” Kerwin said following her experience. “It’s just a simulator, but it seems so real — I totally killed the guy. My heart was pounding. Imagine if this was for real.”

Chantal Zarbaugh, who helps with the marketing at the Kukui Grove Center, said this was the first time the DOT has brought the simulator to Kauai.

“We also had the special goggles at the Child and Parent Fair,” Zarbaugh said. “That is supposed to show you the effects of drinking alcohol and driving. I tried those on and whoa!”

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, or the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 mph — blindfolded.

Kerwin and other test drivers were eager to take the pledge of protecting lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving; being a good passenger and speaking up if the driver in the car is distracted, and spreading the word to family and friends about the dangers of distracted driving.

As of July 1, 2013, Hawaii has a law banning the use of handheld electronic mobile devices while driving. Additionally, drivers below the age of 18 years old are completely banned from talking on cell phones. Drivers 18 years and older may use hands-free mobile devices to talk while driving.

Rafael Camarillo was waiting on the Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School band to finish up its performance at the mall, and took advantage of the wait to try the specially equipped Toyota.

“I hit all the guys,” Camarillo said. “I just wanted it to end. It’s very realistic. You’re driving, and it just happens.”

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