Abigail Hodges screamed as the virtual-reality car she was driving while texting almost hit bicyclists and then a man pushing a baby carriage.
The scene played out before Hodges' eyes on a pair of goggles she was wearing on the Long Beach boardwalk Saturday afternoon. The simulation, set up by AT&T and the City of Long Beach, aimed to educate passersby on the dangers of driving while distracted by smartphones.
"That scared me," Hodges, 29, exclaimed as she got up from a carlike seat.
AT&T representative Max Clayman asked Hodges how often she texts while driving.
"I don't even do it occasionally, not since my friend died," responded Hodges, a Manhattan woman who has a home in Long Beach.
Hodges said a friend was struck and killed by a texting driver about three years ago as she was crossing Shore Road in Long Beach while pushing her baby in a carriage. The baby survived, she said.
Long Beach Police Commissioner Michael Tangney said he's shocked by the many drivers he spots every day who risk accidents by texting while they drive in what he described as "a two, three, four-thousand-pound missile. If that hits someone or something, it's going to cause severe damage and possibly death," he said.
There were 445 people killed nationwide in accidents in 2013 involving a driver on a cellphone, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Tangney said drivers lose concentration as their phone beeps or rings, alerting them to a new text, email or call.
"We are an immediate society and people want everything now," Tangney said.
The Long Beach event is part of a 100-city tour of the simulator that AT&T launched on July 17 as part of its "It Can Wait" distracted-driving campaign, said Alexa Kaufman, an AT&T spokeswoman.
The simulator will be on the Long Beach boardwalk at Riverside Boulevard between noon and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It will be at the West Islip Community Center between 1 and 5 p.m. Monday.