RPD, AT&T bring no texting and driving campaign to RHS
Griffin Hagler looked across the students gathered in the Russellville High School gym and asked them to pull out their cell phones and scroll through their list of text messages.
As is the norm these days, almost every student had a cell phone and began looking through their recent messages.
“Now,” Hagler continued, “is that last text message that you sent or received worth losing your life over?”
The students looked around at one another as the sobering question sank in.
Hagler, who is the tour manager for the “It Can Wait” campaign sponsored by AT&T, and others who are working with the campaign have been posing this question to students across the county in an attempt to make them realize how dangerous it can be to text while driving.
With the help of the Russellville Police Department, the “It Can Wait” campaign visited the RHS campus on Thursday and along with Hagler’s talk, students also watched a documentary called “The Last Text” showing the stories of three separate situations where one simple text had been the factor in someone’s death, such as high school senior Mariah West who crashed into a bridge while texting and died the day before her high school graduation.
“It’s a reality check for these kids to see how one bad decision to text and drive could affect so many people,” Hagler said.
“They hear from the victims’ families and friends and see the grief they are having to endure just because someone wasn’t paying attention behind the wheel.”
According to an AT&T survey, 97 percent of teenagers know that texting while driving is dangerous, but 43 percent of them admit that they still engage in the activity.
Capt. Mike Prince said this was the precise reason why it was important for Russellville’s students to be part of this campaign.
“Kids know you aren’t supposed to text and drive but a lot of times they don’t see the consequences or know just how dangerous it can be,” Prince said.
“They may think they are still good drivers, even while they’re distracted, but this simulator proved many of them wrong.”
The simulator is a virtual reality simulator that allowed students to get behind the wheel of a virtual car and attempt to drive while also attempting to send and receive text messages.
RHS junior Colton Hargett, son of Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett, said his dad has made it very clear that texting while driving is not an option, so he definitely knows about the dangers, but it was another thing to experience it first-hand.
“I’ve been told over and over how dangerous it is, but when you see that video and see how bad it really is, it really makes you think twice about doing it,” Hargett said.
“I didn’t end up having a wreck when I tried the simulator, but I had a lot of close calls. I nearly hit a parked car and swerved over the line several times. If there had been a car there, I could have hit it.”
Other students, like 12th grader Jackson Smith, said their time behind the wheel wasn’t too successful.
“I did horrible,” Smith said. “I guess you don’t really realize how bad a drive you are when you’re trying to text at the same time. It really catches you attention to actually see it through the simulator though.”
Hannah Prince, who has only had her license for less than a month, said she was glad she participated in the campaign so she wouldn’t get in the habit of texting and driving.
“It was so hard to do all the things you’re supposed to do while driving and to pay attention when you were trying to respond to a text message,” she said. “I did really bad, and it made me see that if I want to be safe on the road, I don’t need to be texting.”
According to a National Safety Council report, more than 100,000 vehicle crashes each year involve drivers who were texting – and many of those crashes resulted in life-changing injuries or deaths.
Police Chief Chris Hargett said he was glad his department could assist in bringing this campaign to the area because the safety of the city’s youth is always a priority.
“We want to make teenage drivers aware of the dangers of texting and driving so we can prevent these accidents from ever occurring,” Chris Hargett said. “This program is a great way to reach out to teenage drivers to see first-hand the potential consequences.”
Hagler said while the “It Can Wait” campaign visits many high schools and colleges, adults are also prone to texting while driving, even though the practice is now illegal in the state of Alabama.
“Texting and driving isn’t just something that affects the younger drivers, it’s something adults who have driven for many years have gotten in the habit of doing,” he said.
According to an AT&T survey, 77 percent of teenagers have seen their parents texting while they drive – something that sends a bad message to teens who are hearing about the dangerous consequences of the practice.
The survey also found that 49 percent of commuters have reported they have texted while driving compared to 43 percent of teenagers.
“This really is an epidemic among today’s culture,” Hagler said. “We just hope we can get the word out that it becomes less and less socially acceptable to text while driving and that young people are actually discouraging their friends and even their parents from texting while they’re behind the wheel.”
At the end of the program, students were encouraged to sign a pledge to never text while driving again.
Adults and teens who haven’t been through the program can still take the same pledge and watch the documentary by going to www.att.com/itcanwait.