COLUMBIA — Checking text messages while driving might not seem like a big deal, but the consequences for glancing from the road to a cell phone can be deadly.
That's the message Rock Bridge High School hopes to give its students with the help of a $5,000 Good Neighbor Grant from State Farm Insurance. Columbia State Farm agents delivered the check in the school's media center Tuesday morning, where the only students in attendance were there during their free period. State Farm plans to present the check to the whole student body at an assembly in February.
Gwen Struchtemeyer, Rock Bridge media specialist, submitted the grant proposal in September. The $5,000 amount was determined from State Farm's community projects budget, according to representative Jim Camoriano.
"There is a need for programming like this because traffic accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers," Camoriano said.
The grant will fund the SMART Driver program, which will teach teens about the dangers of distracted driving. The specific use of the money has not yet been determined. Possibilities include students creating artwork, conducting research and meeting with politicians about teen driving policies.
State Farm, a Rock Bridge Partner in Education, will help provide information and materials for the program.
"How do you get through to kids?" State Farm agent Brian Hazelrigg said. "I think we're already on the right path. The kids teach it to the kids."
The SMART Driver program will also include input from the Columbia Police Department, the Missouri Department of Transportation and community leaders. One of the first steps will be to identify the biggest problems with teen drivers in the community.
The main focus of the safe driving efforts is to increase awareness about the danger of distracted driving. Cell phones, iPods and friends can easily distract teen drivers.
"Students are used to texting while walking down the hallway, and we need to show them that it's not the same in a car," Struchtemeyer said. "They think they're aware, but they're not."
State Farm has helped institute similar programs in other states, such as Oklahoma. Ada High School in Ada, Okla., has gone so far as to lobby to the state legislature about seat belt laws.