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St. Joseph to encourage students to not text and drive


May 3, 2010 at 12:03 a.m.

St. Joseph High School student council members Shane Pfeil, left, Chris Mason, center, and Luke Dornak act out a distracted driving scene for this photo illustration. A November 2009 report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project shows that 26 percent of driving age teenagers admit to texting while driving and 48 percent of all teens have been in a car, while the driver was texting behind the wheel. Members of the St. Joseph Student Council will participate in a teen driver safety awareness program next school year. The Teens in the Driver Seat is a program by the Texas Transportation Institute. Student council advisor Debbie Horton said the program will focus on the dangers of distracted driving over the next school year.

Texting while driving makes you 23 times more likely to be involved in a car crash, said Samantha Holland, a representative from the Texas Transportation Institute.

"Texting is now being referred to as the new DWI and people are being called 'intexticated,'" Holland told the St. Joseph High School student council.

Using the research presented by the TTI, the student council will spend the next school year making students aware of the dangers of distractive driving.

Holland presented a driving safety program started by the TTI in 2002 titled, "Teens In the Driver Seat."

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens and tweens, Holland said

Of the 5,000 teens killed per year in traffic crashes, about 400 of those occur in Texas.

"That's like the entire population of St. Joseph," Holland said.

The majority of fatal crashes occur when other passengers - often teens - are in the vehicle, she said.

The highest risk for teenagers while driving is driver inexperience, Holland said, which can be coupled with other conditions, such as driving at night while feeling tired.

"The biggest problem is that fatigue has the same effect as being legally drunk," Holland said. "They say that if you're awake for more than 18 hours, that you have the same reaction time as having a .08 blood alcohol content, which is illegal to drive in all 50 states."

Distractions in your vehicle can also contribute to being involved in an accident, she said.

Examples of distractions can include having too many teen passengers in your car, texting while driving, or even eating a cheeseburger, Holland said.

"There are probably things you don't even think about that you do on a daily basis when you drive that you think are so routine and are OK that can become really big distractions," Holland said.

Drivers who talk on their cell phone while driving are four times more likely to be in a crash, she said.

Starting this summer, 12 student council leaders at St. Joseph will discuss ways to teach students to be wise drivers.

"I think the best way would be to talk with the students and see what they know and see what they don't know," said LeeAnn Dornak, a junior class representative. "Make sure we get the message across on the stuff they don't know so that they will be safer in driving."

Teaching this teen driving program will contribute to a safer school, said Shane Pfeil, current student council president.

"It's going to be a great program they can start next year, and really get involved with the whole student body," Shane, a senior, said. "It's good that we can get that awareness out."



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