A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Grad Students Show Dangers of Texting and Driving

February 21, 2012

With the help of a video game, a team of Mason psychology graduate students gave high school kids in Northern Virginia a crash course on the dangers of distracted driving.

The Mason students visited Westfield High School in Chantilly, Virginia, in spring 2011, bringing with them a popular racing video game that they turned into a portable demonstration of what it’s like to text message and drive at the same time.

Five Westfield sophomores each took a turn driving the simulated race course, first without any distractions and then again while getting and answering text messages from their friends. While distracted, each one had a difficult time safely navigating the course.

“Text messages are usually so meaningless—messages like ‘Hi’ or ‘Thanks,’” says Haneen Saqer, one of the Mason students involved in the study. “We say to the kids, ‘Was this really worth getting into an accident over?’ We hope it shows them it’s not just a game; this is a real take-home message.”

Along with Saqer, Erik Nelson, Jon Strohl, Ewart de Visser, and Nicole Werner are all graduate students in Mason’s Human Factors and Applied Cognition program. After presenting their project at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., in 2010, they realized how popular this interactive idea was with young kids and decided they wanted to get their message out into the community.

They hope to bring this demonstration to other local high schools and eventually formalize the program so that others can replicate it.

—Tara Laskowski

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