Attorney General's office presents "It Can Wait" campaign
That’s the average length of time one’s eyes leave the road while texting and driving, a trend that is steadily rising in tandem with technology use, especially among teens. For young people, texting has become a social lifeline. This lifeline, however, often leads to distracted driving and subsequent crashes. And no social activity, even if it takes only five seconds, is worth paying the ultimate price.
That’s the point that R.I. Attorney General Peter Kilmartin strove to make to high school students at the Block Island School on Monday, June 9. And, with over 100,000 crashes nationwide caused by texting and driving each year, it’s a critical one to make.
Kilmartin, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the Rhode Island State Police and AT&T Wireless have been working together since 2012 to bring AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign to schools across the state. The Block Island School is the campaign’s last stop, out of 22, for the 2013-2014 school year, though the campaign has reached students at 41 schools across the state since its inception. More than 15,000 Rhode Island students, and five million nationally, have signed the “It Can Wait” pledge.
AT&T started the campaign in 2010, with the goal of saving lives and making texting and driving “as unacceptable as drinking and driving,” according to “It Can Wait” material. To address the issue, AT&T has developed a no texting and driving pledge, advertising, a short documentary about the dangers of distracted driving, and AT&T DriveMode.
Kilmartin, who sponsored the state’s 2009 legislation banning texting while driving and this year’s legislation to impose harsher penalties for those caught doing so, was joined by State Police Major James Manni, Special Assistant Attorney General Amy Dodge Murray, and members of the New Shoreham Police and School Departments.
“Get in the habit of not using a cell phone,” Kilmartin said. “That’s what we’re asking you to do… Be our partner. Spread the word.”
Principal Kristine Monje opened the assembly by demonstrating a driving simulator; after receiving a simulated text message, Monje “crashed,” showing just how deadly this small distraction often is.
Students then watched a short AT&T video that highlighted those affected by texting and driving accidents. One mother spoke about losing her daughter. Another speaker was texting when he hit and killed a cyclist, while another had been paralyzed in an accident. The video was especially powerful when the speakers held up posters of the last text their loved one had sent or received.
Kilmartin spoke frankly to the teens in attendance, saying that he could cite all of the legal repercussions of texting while driving, but that nothing could compare to the pain of losing a friend or loved one, or to being the perpetrator.
“Nothing we can do in the criminal justice system can do what that young man described in the video,” Kilmartin said, referencing a perpetrator’s self loathing.
The Attorney General explained that he understood the pressures on busy teens today, but that nothing is important enough to risk one’s life. Everyone has things they must do in their day to day life, he admitted, but there is also a bigger picture.
“Not everything is a ‘must.’ There are choices,” Kilmartin said.
Both Kilmartin and Manni reminded their audience that Block Island roads are particularly dangerous: they’re dark, winding and often filled with pedestrians and cyclists. Add alcohol and the occasional deer to the mix, Manni said, and “it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Manni cited some particularly bad accidents on Block Island and said that there are parts of his job that he dislikes, namely contacting families to break the news of a fatality.
“That’s the worst,” Manni said. “That’s the worst thing you can do as a police officer.”
Manni told students that little Rhody is not immune to the dangerous trend, and that there are 55-60 fatalities annually caused by distracted driving in the state.
New Shoreham Police Chief Vincent Carlone cautioned students.
“I think we have the best kids in the state,” Carlone said. “But as much as I love you, I will arrest you.”
The Police Chief has personal experience with tragic accidents: his two best friends were killed in a car accident just a day before their high school graduation.
Carlone reminded students that a motor vehicle accident has profound effects on the victim and his or her family, but also on the driver. It can affect one’s life years down the road, in terms of college acceptance, jobs, mental health and criminal records.
While Carlone was adamant about the legal repercussions for texting while driving, he also reminded students that the police are available to help.
The Attorney General then presented School Superintendent Robert Hicks with a citation that said that the school had participated in the “It Can Wait” program. Juniors and seniors were invited to sign the pledge as well. All students received orange “It Can Wait” thumb rings to wear to remind them of the dangers of texting and driving.
Kilmartin said that so many kids today have the “it can’t happen to me” mentality, and that hopefully this program will disprove that mentality and leave a lasting impression. So far, he said, “every school, bar none” has been receptive to the presentation.