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DNT TXT N DRV, Highway Patrol tells students

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
DNT TXT N DRV.
That was the message the N.C. Highway Patrol tried to get across to students at East Rowan High School Thursday.
First, troopers rode with students as they drove golf carts on courses set up in the bus/student parking lots ó the first time while focusing their full attention on driving and the second time while reading and responding to a text message while driving.
The results were amazingly different. Students driving and texting ran over orange traffic cones, failed to stop at stop signs and veered off the courses altogether.
Teams of two students partnered up for the exercise. While one was driving, the other would stand with 1st Sgt. B.E. Howe and send a text message. Howe pointed out how reading the message and responding to it affected the other student’s driving.
Kayla Rummage, a junior at East, said the exercise made her realize that she wasn’t a very good driver when she was texting. “It’s hard to pay attention because the keyboard is so wide,” she said, referring to her cell phone.
Rummage said she had only been texting at stop signs, but probably won’t even do that after Thursday’s DNT TXT N DRV program.
A state law set to go into effect Dec. 1 will make it illegal for drivers of all ages to send text messages on their cell phones while driving. Eighteen other states have already passed laws against texting while driving.
North Carolina has a law in effect prohibiting drivers under age 18 from using their cell phones when driving except to call 911 for an emergency or their parents.
A 16-year-old in Gaston County was killed recently, Allred said, when she crashed her car while writing a text message to her mother. Brittany Johnson was declared dead at the scene of the Sept. 6 accident, according to news accounts, and a neighbor found her cell phone on the ground nearby with the unfinished text message on the screen.
Students who may not have taken the danger of texting while driving seriously during the golf cart exercise likely had a change of heart after watching a short film showing how a teenage driver sending a text message caused a three-vehicle accident.
The driver and two of three teenage passengers in her vehicle appeared to have been killed on impact, and the screams of the third passenger reflected the horror of what had happened. A mother and father in a second car also appeared to have been killed, and an infant in the third.
Blake Thomason, a junior at East, said the film convinced him to never send a text message while driving. “I don’t want to kill a little baby,” he said.
“Pretty graphic video,” Allred told the students afterward, adding that it brings home the point troopers were trying to make in the golf cart exercise.
“We had a good time on the golf carts. I hope you did,” he said. “But it was for more than entertainment.”
The No. 1 cause of deaths for young people ages 16-19 is motor vehicle accidents, Allred said. “They’re not on purpose. Nobody expects them.”
Once an accident happens, it’s too late, he said. Allred said teens who cause accidents by texting while driving can be charged with manslaughter and serve time in prison if a passenger or a person in another vehicle is killed.
“So take this to heart,” he told the students.
The golf cart exercise and film were sponsored by East’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). Megan Mueller, adviser for the group, said she found out about the program to educate students on the dangers of texting while driving from Hank Delaney, whose mother, Laura, is a shift supervisor in communications for the Highway Patrol.
Delaney, a junior at the school, said he learned firsthand how difficult it is to drive while reading and sending text messages during the golf cart exercise. He said he never sends texts while driving. “I make sure that when I’m driving, I keep the phone off.”
Bobby Zullinger, his partner in the exercise, said he doesn’t have a cell phone. “But I never thought that texting and driving would be as hard as it really is,” he said.
Allred said the N.C. Highway Patrol has addressed the dangers of text messaging while driving at 15 high schools in a 10-county area so far, reaching about 5,000 students. East is the first high school in Rowan to request the program.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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