Nothing like a demonstration of breaking the law to show the reason for the law. Under the supervision of the CHP, teens at Birmingham High get to see what texting does to driving.
Nothing like a demonstration of breaking the law to demonstrate the reason for the law.
In this case, it's the ban on texting while driving -- a crime that was, of course, unimagined until the last few years when smart phones started sprouting from hands everywhere.
The concern is its potential role in distracting drivers and leading to accidents.
In recent decades, great strides have been made in reducing the toll from intoxication impairment. Now with the growth of handheld electronic devices offering drivers more temptations for distraction, that has become a focus of law enforcement and other organizations devoted to improving safety on the road.
"Seventy-five percent of all fatal teen driving crashes don't involve alcohol or drugs, but everyday reckless and distracted driving behavior," said Kelly Browning, Executive Director of Impact Teen Drivers, which focuses on improving safety by helping teens make wise decisions.
And so it was that I found myself in Van Nuys at Birmingham High School, behind the wheel and with a smartphone in my hand, facing a slalom course of bright orange cones laid out by helpful CHP officers.
The challenge was to maneuver the course. No biggie the first lap. But then I was instructed to do it again while texting.
That's when the cones started flying (along with expletives from the driver). I was so erratic, it was almost as if I'd been toking the same weed an earlier law enforcement experiment had supplied to LA Times columnist Steve Lopez for his memorable piece on driving while stoned.
That I was stone cold sober made my driving all the more embarrassing.
Looking at the toppled cones makes you realize how much ground you cover during each seemingly brief moment you look away from the road to focus on the screen. And the slalom course was so tight, I was driving all of 10 mph. Don't even want to think about 70 mph on the 101.
I know what you're thinking. But it's not just me.
The two Birmingham High seniors who also volunteered for the same experiment knocked askew almost as many cones as I did. (But I must confess that 17-year-old Nora Finch is a much better texter than I -- she had only one typo while simultaneously knocking over cones and texting the opening paragraph of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.)
Inside the Birmingham Auditorium, 600 seniors listened in attentive silence as a Clovis mother, Martha Tessmer, recounted the almost unbearably sad story of a car filled with teens that went out of control and crashed, killing one of the passengers, her 16-year-old son Donovan.
"Think of your closest friends," Tessmer implored her audience. "Imagine putting your fingers to their necks to check their pulse to see if they're still alive."
Nora told us that before today, she never, ever had texted while driving. Now after this program, she knows she never, ever will.
Nor will I.