Washington County High School sophomores Claire Miller and Jenny Begley can’t even drive yet.
That didn’t stop them from learning a valuable lesson about the road, though, when they attended the Teen Distracted Driving Summit recently.
The conference, which was held in Washington D.C. by the National Organization for Youth Safety (NOYS), was aimed at helping teach teen leaders about the dangers of distracted driving and showing them how to make their community more aware of the problem.
The two were one of only 12 pairs of students that applied for and received an all-expenses-paid trip to the conference.
The conference helped Begley realize how easy it was to become distracted as a driver, something she hopes to put into practice once she does finally get behind the wheel of a car.
According to her, one of the most eye-opening revelations was that it takes approximately six seconds to read a text message, and within those six seconds, you’ve travelled the length of six football fields.
After hearing that, among other statistics, Begley now knows how she will handle texting and driving once she can legally drive.
“If I had had my driving license before I went to this conference, I probably would have been doing the same thing and been texting and driving,” Begley said. “I know now that my phone’s going to be on the other side of the car or turned off or nowhere in view or out of reach.”
Miller feels the same way.
“If I was driving before this, I probably would have been guilty of glancing down or sending OK, but now I know that a text isn’t worth it,” Miller said.
In addition to how they can implement the lessons in their own life, Begley and Miller, who went to the conference as members of FCCLA, learned how they can bring these same types of lessons back to Springfield.
Before prom in April, FCCLA will be doing a mock crash scene trial on distracted driving and showing students the dangers involved with it.
Traci Blanford, WC’s FCCLA adviser that accompanied the two on the trip, said that all of the students will have a chance to follow a student through four different scenes: at a party, at a head-on collision, at a hospital and then, finally, at a funeral.
Once each student has been through each scene, a guest speaker will wrap up the demonstration at a school-wide assembly.
“Hopefully it will have an emotional impact for the students and will help decrease distracted driving in our community,” Begley said. “I think it will show how drastic distracted driving can affect and alter lives.”
That’s only one of the many ways that Miller and Begley hope to put what they’ve learned into action.
They have registered WCHS on the Web site celebratemydrive.com to raise awareness at their school.
The two have talked to the U.S. Representative for Springfield’s district, Brett Guthrie, to see what he could do to help change and implement different policies.
No matter how many methods of awareness-raising activities they do, though, Miller’s main objective is finding the best tactic for having the issue hit home in her community.
“While we were there, I was thinking, ‘OK, what can we do to just get the school involved?’” Miller said. “Learning about all the stuff you can do to help others makes you want to go out and tell other people. It makes you want to decrease the amount of accidents not only in the country, not only in the state, but even in your county.”
While in D.C., the pair heard many interesting ways for drivers to keep from using their phones.
Unsurprisingly, there’s even an app for that.
In fact, there are a variety of apps dedicated to stopping distracted driving, but the one that stood out the most to Begley doesn’t allow any texts to come through to a driver.
It even sends back a text to the original sender saying that the driver is unable to read the text at that time and will answer as soon as possible.
But Miller believes the best technique is the simplest one.
“Just put the phone away,” Miller said. “That way there’s no chance for you to text and drive.”
And, since the two are only sophomores, they have plenty of time to fine-tune their presentations.
“We’ll have time to think our plans out and have time to perfect things,” Miller said. “If we do something this year and it doesn’t work, we can change it for the next few years.”
Begley added that the two would be diligently working at altering how people think about distracted driving until there is a change in the community.
“This is a really serious case in our society, and we need to find ways to diminish it,” Begley said. “It’s not being addressed as much as it should.”