clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Program drives teens to distraction — on purpose

Nathan Mosley and Edith Ramirez were among the young drivers who were tried to drive through a marked course while a front-seat passenger did everything he could to distract them. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Stevie Nicks singing something about white winged doves blared over the radio, the guy riding shotgun had unfolded a broadsheet newspaper as the air conditioning blasted — and behind the wheel, Nathan Mosley was trying to fire off a text message.

To hammer home the hazard of distracted driving, the 16-year-old from Quincy was offered an open bag of potato chips and asked his opinion about the NFL Draft as he attempted to weave through a bunch of orange traffic cones in the parking lot of U.S. Cellular Field Thursday.

When driving instructor Derek Ross — who has a background in professional auto racing — turned off the radio and stopped messing with Mosley, he asked his young charge: “How’s the brain.”

“A lot better,” said Mosley, a high school junior who moments earlier blew a stop sign.

It’s all part of Ford’s Driving Skills for Life Program, which coordinated with the Illinois Department of Transportation to invite several hundred high-schoolers from across Northern Illinois to participate in a morning of behind-the-wheel instruction.

Edith Ramirez, 16, plowed over several traffic cones while glancing at her cellphone as Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” roared.

“I was freaked out,” said Ramirez, a sophomore at Oak Forest High School. “I was like, ‘What am I doing?’ I didn’t like it. I probably will never do it. Or, I probably will. I don’t know?”

Ross hams it up to fluster drivers and encourages classmates in the backseat to join in.

“We have fun, they giggle, they laugh, but they get it right away,” Ross said. “Most of them say ‘I do not text and drive, some of them talk about their parents, how their parents are doing it all the time, and they can’t believe it.”

The point of the exercise registers seconds into the madness.

“They see right away . . . that they need to have full concentration,” Ross said.

Participants faced other challenges too.

Drivers wore goggles to simulate impaired driving, operated a car rigged to let the back end slide and practiced passing semis — all at low speeds in the giant parking lot.

“A lot of the distraction is just talking,” said Ford community relations manager Jim Graham. “Really, the biggest challenge for teens is simply an additional passenger, even more than phones. All the research shows that.”

Graham boiled it down even further: “They think they can do two things well at once until we show them that they can’t.”