By ANGELENA CHAPMAN
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN—Statistics, texts and video showed teens at North Kingstown High School last week the dangers of mixing texting with driving.
Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin was joined by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), state and local police, school and town officials and AT&T to bring kids the message “It can wait.”
Over 700 teens gathered in the auditorium at the high school to view the AT&T presentation that started in the state this fall.
“I cried,” one student said after viewing the documentary about real teens, texting and accidents that resulted.
One teen told the story of a text message she sent to her sister just before her sister lost her life in a fatal crash. Another talked about how he used to work, used to go out on his own, but now, the video showed, he is unable to do anything without help from others – all the result of a devastating car accident that happened because he was texting.
More than one presenter at the high school last Thursday morning mentioned that texting while driving was illegal in the state Rhode Island, however, Kilmartin told the auditorium of teens that that was not why they were there.
We are not here “to lecture,” but “to ask you,” Kilmartin said.
Rhode Island State Police Major David Tikoian spoke to the students and also thanked Kilmartin for the legislation that he sponsored in 2009, which banned texting while driving.
“Thank you for putting that in the tool box of law enforcement,” Tikoian said.
NK Superintendent of Schools Dr. Phil Auger said bringing the message to students was “important to underscore” the serious consequences of an activity many may take for granted.
One of the presenters, RIDOT State Traffic Engineer Robert Rocchio, had his son in the audience and said “he has to hear it at home, at school and when I’m driving with him.”
Rocchio said that “distracted driving” was taking over as the leading cause of the 40,000 crashes that take place each year and that the goal is to “change the safety culture.”
According to Rocchio, the average person will have “three crashes in their life of driving,” and most are “behavior driven,” which means that behavior in question can be changed and they can be prevented.
After the presentation, students in North Kingstown High School’s Leadership Academy were invited to come up and sign boards where they pledged not to text while they were driving. The other students would have the opportunity to sign the boards later that day in the cafeteria and they would remain in the school to remind the students of their pledge.
North Kingstown Police Chief Thomas Mulligan signed the pledge boards along with the kids and told them from the stage that he grew up in North Kingstown and probably knew most of them and the neighborhoods they lived in. When he goes to the scene of a serious accident, something he makes a point to do, he told them he usually knows the individuals involved.
Students were also given rubber “thumb bands” to wear. Each of the orange or blue bands read simply: “It can wait.”
Regional Vice President of AT&T David Mancuso encourages students to download an application on their smart phones that helps with the “temptation” to text and also lets people know that you are unavailable and can’t respond. “It’s for parents too,” he said. Teens are encouraged to take the pledge with their parents or with their best friends.
North Kingstown’s group of mostly juniors and seniors was the largest group to see the presentation in Rhode Island so far, but it is available to high schools of all sizes.
It is aimed at those who are “mobile,” Mancuso said, who are already driving or who are getting into vehicles with other people.
Mancuso asked the students that morning who, before the 8:40 a.m. assembly, had already sent a text message. Hands went up all over the large room.
“Is that message worth your life?” he asked, before introducing the film.
In AT&T’s film, examples of the “the last text” were shown on the screen – “lol,” “yeah” and other seemingly trivial messages had changed the lives of the teens featured.
Even after seeing the film at least six times, Kilmartin said he “still gets choked up.”
“We have the power within our own means, within our own behavior,” he told the students.
“Imagine the person sitting next to you—gone,” he asked, “because of a car accident.”
“Only you have that power,” he told them.