A vehicle traveling at 60 miles an hour covers roughly 88 feet per second.
That’s about the length of a football field in the three to five seconds it takes to send a text message, plenty of time and distance for an entirely preventable, life-altering tragedy.
This was the message delivered to St. Andrew’s School students Wednesday afternoon. It was the latest presentation of the “Txtng & Drivng… It Can Wait” Awareness Campaign, which was launched by AT&T in March 2010.
Here in Rhode Island, the company partnered with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the Attorney General’s Office and the Rhode Island State Police. About a dozen Rhode Island schools have heard the presentation since September and while it’s typically presented to juniors and seniors, St. Andrew’s School allowed its entire student body (grades 3 and up) to attend.
“This is an important meeting for all of us,” said Headmaster John Martin.
RIDOT Director Michael Lewis said the goal of the presentation was to build safe driving habits. He said there were 32,000 people killed on highways around the country last year including 67 in Rhode Island. It was actually the lowest number of highway fatalities since 1949, Mr. Lewis said, the result of innovations in vehicle and roadway safety.
These improvements, however, can only go so far.
“The real problem is us. It’s you. It’s the people driving the vehicles. That’s what causes the accidents that kill 32,000 people a year,” Mr. Lewis said.
“What we’re talking about today is distracted driving.”
The presentation featured a 10-minute video of interviews with young adults whose lives have been affected by texting while driving. One young man struck a cyclist while texting “LOL.” One young woman lost her sister who was distracted by reading a text.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has seen the video more than 10 times and it hasn’t lost its affect. He said those in the video have something in common with those watching it — they all believe it could never happen to them.
“As much as the folks in this video thought they had mastered texting and driving, they hadn’t,” Attorney General Kilmartin said.
“You have the power. You alone have the power not to text and drive.”
Major David P. Tikoian of the Rhode Island State Police shared his personal story with students. He recalled one night when state police were force to shut down Interstate 95 north by the Connecticut line after a man, distracted by a text message, drove 300 feet off the road into a tree.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Maj. Tikoian said.
“It was a crash because it was preventable.”
Following the presentation, a few dozen St. Andrew’s seniors signed a pledge not to text and drive including Angelika Pellegrino.
“I think that it was an eye-opening experience,” she said of the presentation.
“You really don’t realize five seconds can take someone’s life.”