Texting teens: FOX59’s hidden cameras catch them in the act

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CENTER GROVE — It takes just one second – one instant – to go from fun, games and life as a typical teen to a much different reality.

These days, to be a teenager means staying connected, not missing one moment and never leaving your phone behind.

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A person reads text messages while driving.

FOX59 wanted to know just how much that addiction to technology goes behind the wheel on our roads.

Joe Stricker is your typical dad: he talks to his teenage son Nick all the time and keeps an eye on him. Still, he can never be quite sure what Nick’s really doing behind the wheel.

“We wanted to … see what really does go on in there,” Stricker said.

So, we called in the professionals. Xtreme Vehicle Designs in Noblesville helped us take apart Nick’s car and find a spot for a hidden camera.

The camera was a tiny piece of equipment embedded into the car’s lining and provided by Steve Bockler, private investigator and owner of SBI Professional Investigations.

“I’m not going be surprised if they’re texting and driving. I think one somebody sees themselves actually doing it on camera, that could be a deterrent,” Bockler said.

That’s what we wanted to find out. Joe took Nick’s car home and gave it back to him, that hidden camera in place.

“Hopefully he’s doing what we think he’s doing,” Stricker said.

The next morning, Nick hopped in to head to school. The time stamp on our hidden camera shows that it’s 7:09 a.m. It’s dark but Nick’s phone is already out and in his lap. You can see the glow of the screen as he checks it while he’s driving.

Fast forward that same day, as Nick gets out of school. He pulls his phone out of his pocket right as he’s moving slowly through the parking lot, then stashes that phone right between his legs.

Over the course of a few days, we watched Nick battle plenty of distractions. The camera caught him changing his music, even picking up the family dog and all the while his phone spent a lot of time right in his hand.

In one clip, you can even see as Nick looks down for three full seconds, glances up and then down again as he drives.

Chandler Gerber knows how dangerous and even deadly those few seconds can be and how one moment can change everything.

“I started driving (at) about eight in the morning. It was really difficult to see and I got bored, (so I) just started texting my wife. My whole world froze that morning,” Gerber said.

“I just heard glass breaking, tires screeching, crunching, all these types of things. A second or two goes by, I kind of came to a stop and a body came off the top of the van. I just knew that I had hit something,” Gerber said.

Gerber had hit an Amish buggy at full speed.

“I jumped out of the van and I just ran around the side of it to the back and  I looked and there was just a buggy and a horse and just people laying in the ditch,” Gerber said.

He killed a teenager and two young children that day. Two years later, he has a very real message for all of us and agreed to take a look at our hidden camera footage.

“I can just see that being the van that I was driving. When I see that, it just about makes me sick because I know how fast things can happen. I don’t want that to happen to him,” Gerber said.

We showed Gerber’s chilling message to Nick and his dad, along with that footage of Nick’s habits.

“When you’re (texting) you never think, ‘Oh, I could hit something or somebody,” Nick said.

Even more shocking, though, was what we caught Dad doing.

After watching the crew spend hours installing the hidden camera in Nick’s car, it takes just more than a minute after Joe pulls out of the parking lot for him to start texting behind the wheel himself.

“It’s funny that you still do it even though you know the camera’s there,” Nick said to his dad.

“It’s just bad habits,” Stricker said.

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A person using his phone while driving.

A lot of what both Nick and Joe did on our footage is perfectly legal under Indiana law. You can talk on your phone, use your GPS feature or even play a game while you drive legally. You can also text while you’re at a stop. When you type, send or read a text or email while moving in your car, though, you break the law.

Still, as he lives with the pain of his own accident, Gerber knows that even being legal can be deadly.

“It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been driving (or) how long you’ve been texting. … Things happen,” Gerber said.

Consider that the average crash happens just three seconds after a driver is distracted. We saw plenty of drivers right on central Indiana roads who spend way longer with their eyes off the road.

As for Nick, this was a real eye-opener to his little habits, like all the time he spends with the phone in his hand.

“I never realized I do that,” Nick said.

To see more of Chandler’s story, go here: “From One Second To The Next.”

For more information on Indiana’s statewide campaign to end texting and driving, including statistics you need to know, go here: donttextdrive.com.

To take the pledge yourself and vow not to text behind the wheel, go here: itcanwait.com.