After watching a documentary that featured people giving testimonials about losing loved ones to automobile crashes caused by texting and driving, approximately 500 Pilgrim High School juniors and seniors signed a pledge promising not to text and drive. They also agreed to encourage others not to text and drive, as not all students have their licenses.
The viewing took place at the school Thursday morning, with Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and AT&T presenting the "Txtng & Drivng. It Can Wait" public awareness campaign.
“If you have the habit, break the habit,” Kilmartin told students. “If you don’t, don’t develop the habit. You hold the power to not text and drive [and] to tell the person next to you not to text and drive. Making the choice to text and drive is a bad choice.”
In 2009, the General Assembly passed the texting while driving ban in Rhode Island. Since then, local and state police have issued more than 575 tickets to those pulled over for texting at the wheel.
Kilmartin, along with Rhode Island State Police Lt. Eric LaRiviere, told students the concern for offenders shouldn’t be a ticket, but the fact that the consequences can be fatal. More than 100,000 crashes a year involve drivers who are texting and cause fatalities and life-changing injuries.
“Make no mistake about it – they’re crashes, not accidents,” LaRiviere said. “Accidents are 100 percent preventable. There are leaders among you [and] there are followers among you. Be a leader. Good behavior is infectious, just like bad behavior is infectious. Do the right thing.”
A recent survey conducted by Beck Research on behalf of AT&T revealed that all teens aren’t doing the “right thing,” as 97 percent of them say while they know texting and driving is dangerous, 43 percent admit to doing it anyway. Also, 75 percent say that it’s common among their friends, and 89 percent expect a reply to a text within five minutes or less. Shockingly, 77 percent report seeing their parents texting while driving.
Additionally, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reported that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in some type of safety critical event as compared to those who don’t text while driving.
Hearing the statistics, as well as watching the documentary, helped encourage students to drop the bad habit. They realized someone’s life – even their own – can be dramatically changed in a split second.
Stephanie Johnson, 17, a senior, said she used to text while driving but took the pledge to stop.
“You see how easy it is for someone to get hurt and killed, so why put your life at risk, as well as someone else’s?” she said. “It’s the same that we’ve been taught our whole lives about drinking and driving.”
Alijah Dickenson, 17, a senior, agrees. She said she goes out of her way to avoid texting while driving.
“I turn my phone off and put it in the center compartment,” she said. “I think everyone needs to sign the pledge, whether it be here or online.”
To make the pledge online, visit www.itcanwait.com.
Other students were touched by the testimonials in the documentary, as many of them gasped when they heard the stories. One story about a mother who lost her daughter the day before she was supposed to graduate high school really “hit home” for Lucy Cavanagh, 17, Abigail Cummings, 17, and Elizabeth Bierenday, 17.
“We’re seniors, so that was really hard to hear,” said Elizabeth.
But it’s a necessary message to hear, Kilmartin said. Despite the fact that the blizzard was headed to Rhode Island last week, he decided not to cancel the presentation.
“This message can’t wait,” he said. “It’s an important message, and we want to get it out to everybody everywhere. We’re hoping that you go home and tell your siblings, your parents ‘it can wait.’ Look at who’s sitting next to you, and picture that seat being empty because that person was hospitalized because he or she was texting while driving, or worse, because you were texting and driving. Don’t text and drive.”
AT&T launched the campaign in 2009, with the Attorney General joining forces in 2010. Kilmartin plans to visit Rhode Island schools to promote the campaign throughout the year. So far, he’s visited 13, and will be stopping at South Kingstown High School today.
As noted, the documentary highlights the life-changing and often fatal consequences of texting and driving. Among those interviewed for the video include a police officer who frequently reports to gruesome accident scenes due to texting at the wheel. One particular case stands out in his mind most.
“The first thing I noticed about her was her shoes, and I thought, ‘This is a young girl,’” the officer said. “At that point I noticed her cap and gown was still in the car. She was going to graduate the next day. It was a really horrific scene all because of a text message. It’s just sad. It never gets any easier, and it won’t get any easier.”
The mother of the girl who died was also interviewed and said her daughter was on her way to a baseball game to meet a boy. He was texting her directions, and asked her where she was when the crash occurred.
“He had no idea she had been in an accident so he kept texting,” the woman in the documentary said. “We ended up having to send him a text back saying, ‘Please stop. She’s in critical condition in the hospital.’”
Another young woman told her story about how texting one simple word, “Yeah,” changed her life forever. Her sister read the text before she died.
“Four little letters – that’s what killed her,” she said. “If I could talk to her one last time I would say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
A man who hit a bicyclist and killed him because he looked down to read a text shared a similar story. At one point, he had a nervous breakdown because he couldn’t handle living with the guilt.
“There are no words to describe the level of shame, the level of depression I was going through,” he said. “I sent one, stupid, meaningless text – ‘LOL’ – and it killed a man.”
Another man can no longer walk because he was involved in a crash due to texting and driving. He was on his way to the movies when he was hit. Paramedics declared him dead on the scene three times before eventually reviving him.
“It can just take three seconds,” he said.
After the presentation, Kilmartin awarded school principal Marie Cote with a certificate to Pilgrim for taking part in the event. The two then signed the pledge, and invited students to the front of the auditorium to do the same. Reminding them that “distraction causes crashes, so let’s think about what we’re doing out there.”
To prevent texting and driving crashes, AT&T offers “Drive Mode,” a free mobile application for Andriod and BlackBerry customers that provides a custom auto-reply message that users’ contacts receive if they send a text or email, notifying them that the user is driving and will respond when it is safe. The company is also developing new educational tools, including an online simulator in the near future, as well as challenging device makers and app developers to have all devices include pre-loaded, no-text and drive technology solutions.
For more information on AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign, visit www.att/itcanwait.com.