Bridgit Burns hasn’t got her licence yet, but the 13-year-old already has a sense of how distracting it is to text while driving.
Behind the wheel of a driving simulator set up outside White Rock Christian Academy Tuesday, the teen navigated through intersections, right and left turns and other routine tasks of driving, under the watchful eyes of her peers and ICBC road safety co-ordinator Kate Woochuk.
“When I had to text and drive, it got hard,” the Grade 8 student said after finishing her turn on the route.
And while no damage came of Burns’ mistakes behind the wheel, she knows that in real-life, the practice of using a phone while driving can have devastating consequences.
“It could seriously hurt someone,” she said. “You could hit a pedestrian crossing the road.”
The statistics are eye-opening.
ICBC road safety co-ordinator Karen Klein said distracted driving is now the second-leading cause of death on B.C. roads – edging out impaired driving – responsible for 88 deaths per year.
“Police data tells us that a quarter of all car-crash fatalities in B.C. are distracted driving,” Klein said.
“You lose about 50 per cent of what’s going on around you.”
Across the parking lot from the simulator, Special Const. Susan Caley and community policing volunteers put students through an obstacle course that challenged their ability to multi-task.
Each was handed either a calculator or cellphone and told to enter numbers or letters constantly while zig-zagging between balls balanced atop orange cones, obeying stop signs and following instructions, such as whether to step with their left or right foot.
“You cannot do these two things at the same time,” Caley tells a group of Grade 6 girls who finished the course with a few hitches.
“When you’re operating a 1,500-pound vehicle, you don’t get any second chances.”
That fact was also driven home to motorists travelling along 152 Street Tuesday, as officers with the Fraser Valley Integrated Road Safety Unit – along with volunteers from Surrey Crime Prevention Society’s Cell Watch program – conducted an enforcement blitz, stationing themselves at the intersections of 20 and 24 Avenues, King George Boulevard, and in the 2200-block of 152 Street.
In 90 minutes, they wrote 51 tickets, including 35 for cellphone use.
Klein said while it will be years before many of the students who were put to the test Tuesday get behind the wheel of a real vehicle, it’s never too early to drive home the safety message.
“It’s great to plant the seed early,” she said.