Juniors and seniors at Bishop Hendricken High School were reminded about the dangers of texting and driving yesterday when the Office of the Attorney General, Rhode Island Department of Transportation, Rhode Island State Police and AT&T presented their “It Can Wait” campaign and asked the students to sign a pledge to not text and drive.
Principal Jay Brennan led the presentation in front of the roughly 450 students, reminding them of the impact this can have. “You’re not just taking your life in your hands, your taking the lives of other into your hands,” he said.
The “It Can Wait” campaign, which has been presented in 28 schools across the state with nearly 10,500 students signing the pledge, features a virtual driving simulation during which a driver attempts to drive a video game car while receiving and responding to texts. The driver at this presentation, much to the delight of the students, was Father Christopher Murphy, the school’s chaplain.
“It’s different from a real car,” said Murphy, who admitted it was harder than he imagined it would be. “I don’t text and drive, so that’s why.”
Although he did practice the simulator before the presentation, Murphy admitted that having 450 backseat drivers telling him what to do was a different experience. Despite the laughs, Murphy was confident the demonstration would have an effect on the students.
“I think sometimes when we’re doing it ourselves, we don’t think about it,” said Murphy. “But when you’re observing somebody else, from that third party perspective, it’s different.”
If watching Murphy almost crash multiple times while answering texts about his plans for the night didn’t reach the students, the powerful words from DOT Director Michael Lewis, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and State Trooper Major James Manni did.
During his remarks to the crowd, Lewis asked students to do a little math. He asked how many feet per second did a car move if it was traveling 60 mph; after a few seconds of silence, one student provided the correct answer of 88 feet per second. Lewis then informed the crowd that if it takes an average of five seconds to look down at a phone and text while driving, the car would have traveled between 400 and 500 feet when one’s eyes were not even on the road. For a better comparison, in three seconds the car would have traveled the length of a football field.
“How many of you think we could put obstacles on a football field, blindfold you and you could run the length of that field without hitting anything?” asked Lewis
Before Kilmartin and Manni addressed the students, a 10-minute documentary from AT&T called “The Last Text” was shown. It told four different stories about how four young lives were drastically changed or ended because of texting and driving. One sister recalled sending the text her sister was reading when her truck hit a median and flipped. Another young man explained the self-punishment and emotional problems he has experienced since he struck and killed a cyclist because he was texting while driving. One young man explained how he is now physically impaired and unable to care for himself because he was a passenger in someone’s car when the driver was texting and hit a tree. Finally, a mother remembered her daughter who died while texting and driving.
“We all at one point or another think that won’t happen to me,” said Kilmartin after the video ended. “I bet all those people thought the same thing.”
Kilmartin, whose nephew was in the audience as well, explained that he did not intend to lecture or threaten the students but to ask them to be a partner, make the choice not to text and drive, and hopefully avoid more “senseless” tragedies like the ones in the video.
“We all have things we have to do, but this is about all of the power you do have to make choices. You have the power not to text and drive,” said Kilmartin.
Manni planned to speak to the crowd not as a state trooper but as a father; his son, James, is a senior at Hendricken. Instead of giving statistics about the number of accidents or tickets issued, Manni told them the process he goes through at the scene of an accident fatality and the experience of telling a family their child has died.
“We go to this house and we’re going to tell this family this awful news…I say to myself in 20 seconds, I am going to change this person’s life forever,” said Manni. “I can remember each person I have said that to and the look in their eyes when they meet mine.”
Manni explained that delivering a death notification and arresting a young person for a senseless, distracted driving incident are the worst parts of his job. He hoped that by sharing his experiences, the students would realize that these tragic accidents do happen in Rhode Island.
Following the conclusion of the program, there was time for roughly 40 students to sign the It Can Wait pledge; however, many more were expected to sign during their lunch period.
“This was definitely a very relatable presentation, definitely something that effects every one of us,” said Christian Kabbas. “We all have that moment when we consider texting and driving.”
James Manni said he hears this message all the time at home, but to hear it from his father in front of his peers was a different experience.
“I usually only get it from a father telling his son,” said James, who said he usually doesn’t hear the details that he did during this presentation. “It really hits home from the law enforcement side.”
Liam Watkinson admits that he does check his phone while driving, but found the presentation and the video to be motivating.
“I have a tendency to look at my phone while driving, and I was sitting there [during the presentation] thinking I could probably tuck it away for a while,” he said.
For more information about the “It Can Wait” campaign, visit www.att.com/itcanwait or the Attorney General’s website, www.riag.ri.gov.