WINSLOW — Morgan Twitchell had one hand on the wheel, the other on her cell phone.

She swerved around the parking lot as her fingers worked to type a text message.

Fortunately, Twitchell was driving a golf cart, not a car, and she was accompanied by police officer Joshua Veilleux. Her task: to navigate around an obstacle course of orange cones while also texting the message, “I’m driving a golf cart.”

She knocked over one cone before reaching the end after about 30 seconds. She managed to text: “im fdruvinjg a? golf.”

“It was really difficult to keep steering the wheel,” Twitchell said afterward.

Gathered in a large parking lot off Benton Avenue Wednesday morning, the group of high school freshmen watched as Twitchell and others attempted to text and drive.

Other students had similar results: some drifted onto the grass, plowed over orange cones, or managed to text only a handful of jumbled letters.

“So what did we learn,” Veilleux said when students had finished. “Going 2 to 3 mph through cones and we can’t even do text. What are you going to do when you’re going 45 mph … 65 mph and you’re trying to drive?

“It is not worth it to lose your life while texting and driving,” Veilleux said.

The texting-while-driving exercise was one of several demonstrations and talks by police, fire and rescue officials to all of Winslow’s high school students. Other topics Wednesday included seat belts as well as drinking and driving.

The issue of texting while driving is fast becoming a concern among public-safety officials as more gadgets, including cell phones and computers, are brought into vehicles, especially by teenagers.

Multitasking leads to distraction, which is the No. 1 cause of car accidents involving young people in Maine, said Veilleux, who is also Winslow’s school resource officer.

Data released last month from the nonprofit Highway Loss Data Institute showed that texting in general is increasing. Wireless phone subscriptions totaled 286 million as of December 2009, up 47 percent from June 2005, while text messaging has increased about 60 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Veilleux pointed to a fatal car accident Saturday in which York High School graduate Erika Jolie died after crashing her car on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth. Police found a partial text message on her cell phone and attributed the crash’s primary cause to “distracted driver texting.”

Even though the group of Winslow freshmen aren’t driving cars yet, those who attempted the texting on a golf cart said afterward that they learned valuable lessons about distracted driving.

“It was really hard — and I thought it would be wicked easy,” said 14-year-old Connor Wildes, who was allowed to drive the cart a second time without texting and finished the course quickly and flawlessly. “It’s tough, because you have to have really big buttons to type everything.”

Veilleux encouraged the students to be leaders and speak up if they’re in a car with someone who is driving while distracted.

“Don’t be afraid to say something to them; it’s your life in the vehicle,” Veilleux said. “I can tell you I watch older kids leave the high school and I can probably catch 20 kids texting and driving.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]