Four students from Mesa Verde High School learned first-hand the dangers of distracted driving earlier this week when they participated in an event that put them behind the wheel of a car at the raceway in Sonoma.
Students were asked to change lanes at freeway speeds as well as complete a timed course while an instructor rattled off a list of things to do -- send a one-word text message, adjust the radio, open the sun roof. Instructors from the Simraceway Performance Driving Center oversaw and rode with the students.
Seven students from Sonoma State University, Marin Catholic High School and Mesa Verde High School participated in the event, which was in partnership with St. Joseph Health of Sonoma County, the Simraceway Performance Driving Center, Farmers Insurance and the California Highway Patrol.
"I already knew not to drive distracted, but it showed how your reaction times are affected," said Wil Chavez, a Mesa Verde junior. "If you aren't distracted, you pay more attention to the road."
Chavez, William Afanaseff, Jared Cambridge and Ashley Hovorka each participated in the event from Mesa Verde.
Chavez said students were instructed to treat cones like they were people.
"I hit one cone while I was driving distracted," he said.
Chavez said he also found that he drove slower and forgot part of the course while driving distracted.
"I can attest to the effect that the accidents caused by distracted driving have on patients and their families," Jan Gritsch, a trauma program manager for Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, said in a statement. "If you choose to text and drive, it affects you and your family, but it is a drop in the pond that leaves a ripple effect all around you and anyone else involved in the accident."
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show 3,092 people were killed and an estimated additional 416,000 were injured in auto accidents involving distracted drivers in 2010.
Here is a San Francisco Chronicle story from the event that features Ashley Hovorka from Mesa Verde: Students experience distracted driving
(Photo courtesy of Sonoma Raceway)