CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Students at the University of Virginia are learning some valuable lessons about the dangers of texting while driving thanks to a new partnership between AT&T and DRIVE SMART Virginia.

Dozens of people stopped by the It Can Wait campaign tent in front of Newcomb Hall Thursday. A driving simulator showed them the real-life risk being on a smartphone while being behind the wheel.

"We've had people scream. We've had people, you know, take their goggles off and go ‘wow that was real,’" said AT&T Spokesman CJ Johnson.

Getting in the driver's seat of the 3D simulator helps teach the average driver the valuable lesson of paying attention to the road.

"You're starting in a driveway, you're going through neighborhoods, you're going through school zones, and the whole time you're getting texts. You're constantly distracted," Johnson said.

"It’s really realistic, and it kind of freaks you out," said UVA student Kate Millner

UVA students who took the test realized the dangers of being on a smartphone while driving.

"I've been guilty a couple of times of texting and driving, and had a close call where you like almost run off the side of the road and freak out," Millner said.

“For many, it's the wake-up call they need. So, you know, they don't use their phones while driving," said Johnson.

Police say officers are cracking down on people who engage in this dangerous behavior.

"If an officer suspects you of texting while driving they can pull you over just for that violation, and then it’s a $125.00 fine for the first offense. So it’s being taken very seriously," said UVA Police Officer Ben Rexrode.

The It Can Wait campaign tent is making stops across the country, but the next event is scheduled to take place at Virginia Commonwealth University on Friday, Aug. 28.

Press Release from AT&T:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – AUGUST 27, 2015 — Citing research that shows 7-in-10 people engage in smartphone activities while driving, ** AT&T today teamed up with DRIVE SMART Virginia and the University of Virginia (UVA) to highlight the dangers of distracted driving.

The event coincides with “Losing Loved Ones in a Tragic Accident Month in Virginia,” which was created under House Joint Resolution Number 593.  The resolution, which was introduced by Del. Margaret Ransone and adopted in February 2015, says, in part: “Virginians are asked to observe Losing Loved Ones in a Tragic Accident Month by honoring individuals and families that have been lost due to traffic crashes and remembering to always drive safely and responsibly.”

The resolution was inspired by Christina Dempsey whose sister and nieces perished in a traffic accident on August 27, 2013.

To drive home the message, AT&T set up a virtual reality (VR) simulator on campus, allowing the University’s students and staff  to experience firsthand how dangerous it can be when drivers take their eyes off the road to look at their smartphones.

“Using a smartphone while driving can be deadly – for drivers, their passengers and for everyone on the road,” said Vince Apruzzese, AT&T’s regional vice president for External Affairs in Virginia. “A post, a selfie, a text, a scroll, an email while driving -- one look is all it takes. This new simulation shows the real consequences of looking at your phone while driving. Together DRIVE SMART Virginia and the team at UVA, we want to remind drivers: it all can wait.”

Apruzzese added that today’s event is the second of three taking place this week at Virginia universities – and is among more than 100 scheduled for communities nationwide – to drive home this important message.  The simulator was set up at University of Mary Washington yesterday, and will stop at Virginia Commonwealth University tomorrow.

Today’s event was organized in collaboration with DRIVE SMART Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing distracted driving on Virginia’s roads.

“Driver distraction has been proven to be a significant cause of car crashes, many causing serious injury or death. Programs like this go far to raise awareness about the importance of driving distraction-free,” said Janet Brooking, Executive Director of DRIVE SMART Virginia. “We’re approaching the beginning of the school year, and we encourage all students to take this time to make the commitment toward safer and distraction-free driving.”

 Officials from UVA said today’s event is a great way to kick off the new school year.

“The University of Virginia Police Department is excited that the distracted driving simulator will be on Grounds. Distracted driving is a serious problem, and we are pleased to partner with AT&T and DRIVESMART VA to bring awareness to the University community about an important issue,” said Benjamin Rexrode, Crime Prevention/Community Policing Coordinator, University of Virginia Police Department.

Samsung, Bose and Google are supporting the tour. It’s an immersive experience, delivered through Samsung Gear VR, with premium sound from Bose QuietComfort® 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling® Headphones.

Google Cardboard lets people use their own smartphones to see the 3D virtual reality program. To experience this program at home, visit  

In addition to the new VR resources and tour, AT&T’s new ad campaign will help broaden recognition that the smartphone distracted driving problem is bigger than texting. Through slow-motion cinematography, viewers are able to see the jarring aftermath of taking their eyes off the road to glance at or tap on a smartphone while driving.

The 30-second spots are featured in national TV programming and on Visit AT&T’s YouTube page to view the 30-second spots and the full-length feature.

Virginians can visit, where they can pledge to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phone, and share their pledges via Twitter (#ItCanWait) and Facebook. Since its launch in 2010, the campaign has:

  •    Helped drive awareness of the dangers of texting while driving to about 90 percent for all audiences surveyed
  •   Inspired more than 7 million pledges not to text and drive
  •   Worked with departments of transportation in Texas, Kentucky and other states on research that suggests a correlation between It Can Wait campaign activities and a reduction in crashes

*AT&T products and services are provided or offered by subsidiaries and affiliates of AT&T Inc. under the AT&T brand and not by AT&T Inc.

**Research commissioned by AT&T and conducted by Braun Research. Polled 2,067 people in the U.S. aged 16-65 who use their smartphone and drive at least once a day. Additional information available here.