Hickman students learn dangers of texting while driving

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 | 6:41 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — One by one, the drivers rolled through traffic lights, swerved into other vehicles and far surpassed the speed limit.

It was a simulation meant to teach students the consequences of texting and driving and to prompt a pledge never to do it again.

The event, organized by AT&T and held at Hickman High School on Wednesday, was part of the company's "It Can Wait" campaign, encouraging people to stop driving while distracted. The campaign began this year and was launched nationwide Wednesday.

Mayor Bob McDavid signed a proclamation for the city, making Columbia one of 30 communities in Missouri pledging to discourage teens from texting and driving.

"For young drivers, they should be focusing on driving, especially since they have less experience," Hickman Assistant Principal Doug Mirts said.

Distracted driving has contributed to a rising number of driving fatalities, and texting has been singled out as particularly dangerous. 

An American Journal of Public Health study found the number of distracted driving fatalities increased 28 percent between 2005 and 2008.

Driver fatalities for 16- and 17-year-olds increased by 11 percent between the first half of 2010 and the first half of 2011, according to a 2011 study by the Governors Highway Safety Association. Missouri was among the states with the highest number of fatalities in this demographic. 

Missouri has a law prohibiting anyone age 21 and under from texting while driving, but law enforcement has said that the ban can be difficult to enforce.

"When I was growing up, playing with the radio or fumbling for a CD was the biggest distraction," said Hickman outreach counselor Isaiah Cummings, who helped organize Wednesday's event. "I couldn't imagine texting while driving." 

Mirts said the rise of gadgets like GPS devices, phones and radios are "good and fine, but driving should be your priority. "

"It's hard enough to (text) while sitting in my chair, but the younger demographic is texting, tweeting, and Facebooking," he said.

Campaigns like "It Can Wait" target schools with that reality in mind. 

"We're trying to get a jump on changing behavior," Craig Felzien, AT&T regional manager, said. The campaign also involves showing students a 10-minute documentary, "The Last Text," which was playing on the wall in the Hickman commons area where the event was held. Students trickled in to do the simulation and watch the film.

Felzien said approximately 800 of the nearly 2,000 students agreed to the pledge by taking a car window sticker and some signed pledges, but none were available for interviews.

AT&T is not the only telecom pairing its name with an anti-texting and driving effort. Sprint sponsors Oprah Winfrey's "No Phone Zone," Verizon Wireless coordinates their own regional programs and many companies are creating mobile apps to discourage phone use while driving. Apps include AT&T's Drive Mode, Textecution and Drive, among others. Many are focused on teen drivers.

"You're talking about a split second in which lives can be changed," Cummings said. "We are trying to get students to think twice about if it is worth injuring yourself or a friend."

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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Cecil Caulkins September 20, 2012 | 5:59 a.m.

Your headline reads, "Hickman students learn dangers of texting while driving." You've got a leap of faith in there. The dangers were illustrated for them, sure. Whether they learned anything remains to be seen. I can recall being a teenager and believing that I was pretty much invulnerable. I doubt that these kids are much different. Accidents caused by texting will probably continue apace.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking September 20, 2012 | 6:22 a.m.

First accident texting and driving - lose your license for a year, or until you are 21. Second one, lose it for life. That'd put a big dent in the problem.

People have to understand how deadly an automobile can be, and treat them with the same respect they'd treat a loaded gun. Any less is the height of irresponsibility.


(Report Comment)
Chrissy King September 20, 2012 | 12:54 p.m.

Well EVERYONE needs to set a better example. It's kinda hard to teach kids that it isn't a good idea when everywhere you go - you look over and pretty much every driver you see has a phone stuck to their head, or texting away. This includes police officers as well. Set an example and pull over if it is that important!

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