Last week in front of the AT&T store on Grant Street, about 70 people watched as a car nearly struck a mother and baby stroller. Then they saw one vehicle nearly rear-end another. Finally, they watched glass shatter as a car made contact with another vehicle.

Fortunately, it was all in a virtual reality simulator.

As part of its “It Can Wait” campaign, representatives with AT&T were downtown on Friday, giving Pittsburghers the firsthand experience of the dangers of smartphone distractions that not only include texting, but posting on social media, emailing and surfing the web.

“One woman who visited the simulator said it was normal for her to check her phone five to six times per trip,” said AT&T spokesperson Christopher Johnson. “She did the simulator and she said, ‘I’m done. This is the reality check.’”

Visitors wearing the simulation goggles received a text while “driving” every 30 seconds. Each resulted in a close call with pedestrians and other vehicles because of the constant distraction.

“It ends with a jarring crash where you’ve been hit. And it’s very powerful. For a lot of people it’s the wake-up call they need to help them to keep their eye on the road,” says Johnson.

New research, conducted by AT&T, shows that seven out of 10 people engage in smartphone activities while driving.

Texting and driving was outlawed in Pennsylvania in 2012 and is illegal in several other states. But still, statistics related to smartphone distractions while driving are staggering.

In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents, and 424,000 were injured, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. More than 14,200 car accidents occurred in Pennsylvania last year that involved a distracted driver, says the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation website.

AAA reports that 47 percent of teens admitted to being distracted behind the wheel because of texting. And AT&T research shows that 62 percent of drivers keep their cell phones within reach.

“Even at a red light you are in a moving vehicle. A lot of people around the country have been in accidents where it turns green, they don’t go and then get hit in the back,” Johnson says.

Seventy-five people who visited the simulator took a pledge to keep their eyes on the road and off their phone while driving.

Since the national campaign began in 2010, over 7.1 million people have taken the pledge.

Christopher Johnson of AT&T shows how to view a simulation on Google cardboard goggles. Photo by Laurie Bailey.
Christopher Johnson of AT&T shows how to view a simulation on Google cardboard goggles. Photo by Laurie Bailey.

An app to see the simulator at home on a smartphone through Google cardboard goggles can be downloaded at

“It doesn’t matter what state we are in, we are distracted,” Johnson says. “Is a post, a glance, an email, a text worth your life or somebody else’s life?”

Here’s some good advice: throw your phone in the back seat when you take the wheel and leave it there until you get out.

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.