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Message to students: ‘It Can Wait’

WACS presentation shows students the dangers of texting and driving

May 25, 2016
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

Westfield Academy and Central School senior high students learned last week that their lives may someday depend on three words - "It Can Wait."

This was the message delivered through a team effort by AT&T, AAA of Western and Central New York, Westfield Police and the school district regarding distracted driving, especially driving while using a mobile device.

Students heard presentation from representatives of each organization, followed by two videos - a documentary titled "The Last Text," and a re-created account of a crash involving texting titled "Close to Home."

Article Photos

Photos by David Prenatt
AT&T store manager John Poissant guides Westfield students through a virtual reality scene of driving while using a mobile device.

After the presentation, students were invited to experience the hazards of using a smart phone while driving through the use of 3D virtual reality goggles provided by AT&T as a part of its national free public education program to reduce the number of accidents caused by distracted driving. Students were also urged to sign a pledge to avoid the use of a smart phone while driving.

Westfield senior high principal Ivana Hite explained that the program was the third in a series aimed to make teenagers more aware of dangerous practices. "We've already had two presentations this May, one on prescription drug abuse and one on drinking and driving, and now texting and driving,"

Hite said she hoped the presentations would affect students in such a way that they would be inspired to apply the information in their daily lives. "We won't reach all of the students, but we are hoping to reach the majority and have them take it to their families and friends," she said.

AAA public relations manager Elizabeth Carey told students that research by AAA shows that the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the "100 Deadliest Days for Drivers." During this time, vehicular fatalities increase 26 percent over the rest of the year, she said.

Carey said that more than 800 teens will be killed in car accidents this time and distraction will be a factor in 58 percent of these. "As you embark on summer, you also embark on the deadliest days for teens," she said.

Kevin Hanna, director of external affairs with AT&T, explained that the company's "It Can Wait" program began six years ago as a way to curb accidents caused by texting and driving. Since then, mobile phones have expanded greatly offering many other forms of distractions to drivers.

Hanna cited a recent survey in which, while driving, 7 out of 10 people admitted to using a smart phone; 4 in 10 admitted to accessing social media; 3 out of 10 said they surf the net; and 1 in 10 said they engaged in a video chat.

"We know that the products we sell, if misused, kill people," Hanna said. "We take it seriously, not only because of the company, but because we care about it."

Hanna said that distracted driving includes any activity that takes one's eyes off of the road while driving, such as eating, putting in a compact disc, looking in one's purse, putting on make-up and looking at other passengers. However, smart phones have greatly increased the number of accidents because the various activities one can perform with them, he said.

Hanna said that all states except Texas, Arizona, Missouri and Montana have statewide laws regarding the use of handheld phones while driving. The legislation is there, he said, but education is needed to help people change their perspective. "Our goal and the goal of AAA to make distracted driving as socially irresponsible as drinking and driving," he said. "Kids are growing up with this technology. They are always on their phones. We believe the power of making it socially irresponsible will help."

Carey also stressed the goal of changing people's perspective on distracted driving. The program is not only aimed at drivers, but encourages passengers to speak up when they witness their parents or friends being distracted while driving, she said. "The point of education is to give them the courage to say something if the driver is distracted."

John Poissant, an AT& T retail manager who has been doing programs of this sort for five years, told the students that it takes five seconds to read a small text. In that time, a car traveling 55 miles an hour travels the length of a football field. "All I ask is that what you take from here is that, if you don't do this, you're saving lives," he said.

Hanna also emphasized the danger of using one's phone while driving. "No one in their right mind wakes up and thinks: 'Hey, I'll drive today with my eyes closed.' But that is what you are doing."

Westfield police office Barry Meleen told the students that speeding and using a mobile device are the two leading causes of accidents in Chautauqua County. "Using mobile devices is quickly approaching the top," he said.

Meleen reviewed what charges one can face for using a mobile phone while driving. He also noted that the state has taken steps to encourage people to pull over if they need to use their phone. "NYS has done something pretty neat. You will see pull off areas for texting when you're driving on the highway."

The presenters all told the students to make a practice of putting their phones somewhere they cannot reach when they are driving. Hanna noted that AT&T has developed an app that will silence the phone when the vehicle is moving at more than 25 miles and hour.

"For us the message is: 'keep your eyes on the road, not on the phone," Hanna said.



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