Guest post from Miss Vicksburg’s Outstanding Teen, Taylor Lee

By Taylor Renee Lee, Miss Vicksburg’s Outstanding Teen

Taylor Lee Essay 2[5]October  9th, 2013. That was the day that I received my Mississippi issued intermediate driver’s license. I left my home alone for the very first time feeling bold and invincible. After driving for a few weeks, I began to notice the unpredictable driving habits of the drivers around me. Their carelessness could potentially harm themselves and other drivers. Upon my observation of this issue, I decided that I wanted to do something about it.

A few years before I started driving, I noticed that my mom would often dial numbers, change the radio station, and even eat while driving. For years she had been practicing these bad habits and one day I brought it to her attention. She had not even realized that she was distracted and wanted to make a change. That day, we made a pact that if she didn’t practice bad habits while driving, I wouldn’t. I eventually shared this conversation with my older brother and his wife, who were anxious to share this with their friends. This observation soon spread to many people in Vicksburg, in my home state of Mississippi.

Because of this small talk that I had with my mom, many adults approached me to share that they were practicing focused driving. I then realized that if my tiny voice could make an impact on adults, teenagers would listen to me also. When I decided to do the local Outstanding Teen Pageant, many people asked me what I was going to do for my platform. Avoiding distractions while driving was a perfect fit. I began talking to my friends around school, dance classes, and church about avoiding distractions while driving. While preparing for the pageant, I discussed the recent accidents and deaths caused by not paying attention to the road and did research on the statistics of distracted driving.

I came across the Teens Against Distracted Driving website while doing my research and found it very helpful. The statistics that I found were mind blowing! For example, did you know that distracted driving reduces your attention level to that of a person with a .08% blood alcohol concentration? .08% is the legal limit for sobriety while driving in many states, and if someone exceeds that level, he or she can receive a DUI. Finding this website opened my eyes to the factual dangers of distracted driving, and I feel that if other teenagers hear these facts, they will put the phone, drink, or lipstick down. During my year as Miss Vicksburg’s Outstanding Teen, I plan to speak at high school assemblies, church gatherings, and other citywide functions. Raising awareness is only the beginning of providing safer roads in America.

25% of car crashes involve cellphones

A news story reveals that one in four accidents are caused by the use of cell phone while driving. Not only does texting while driving continue to be a problem among commuters, but commercial drivers are a growing hazard to the health and safety of everyone.

Drivers using cellphones fail to see up to 50% of the information in their environment, says David Teater, senior director at the NSC. And the risk of getting in crashes from texting is getting worse, he says. Texting is increasing in popularity inside and outside of the driver’s seat: One in three Americans favors texting over calling, according to a 2011 study by Pew Research Center, and Americans send an average of 41 texts a day (with those ages 19 to 25 sending an average of 110 texts a day).

The number of drivers texting or manipulating their devices increased from 0.9% in 2010 to 1.3% in 2011, while driver hand-held cellphone use remained steady at 5%, according to a survey carried out by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. One possible reason: Lack of enforcement. Drunken driving carries heavy fines and jail time, says Justin McNaull, director of state relations for AAA, but cellphone violations are treated more leniently. “Drivers know in their hearts and their heads that it isn’t the best idea,” he says, “but the odds of getting a ticket remain quite low.”

Despite the low enforcement, texting while driving remains one of the top causes of accidents for teen drivers.

Man Convicted in First Texting and Driving Manslaughter Case Back in Traffic Trouble

In 2009, Vancouver man Antonio Celestine made national headlines when he struck his own math teacher, Gordon Patterson, who was riding a bike. Celestine was texting when he struck Patterson at considerable speed. The case gained national notoriety as a powerful reminder of the tragic consequences of distracted driving.

Now, just two months after finishing a three year sentence for manslaughter, Celestine has been arrested for more driving charges — driving without a license, attempting to elude, and taking a vehicle without permission. From The Republic:

Cellestine’s history wasn’t mentioned at the hearing. But its echoes still resonate in this southwest Washington city of 160,000. The Gordon Patterson Memorial Bike Ride has been celebrated for three years, and the high school where Patterson helped Cellestine graduate has a section informally referred to as the “Patterson wing.”

Before the crash, Cellestine and Patterson made an odd duo, one a failing student with a sizeable juvenile record, the other a beloved math and design teacher who taught church classes under the alias “Gordon the Science Warden.”

Cellestine had convictions for drugs, burglary and fourth-degree assault, and spent nearly a year in a juvenile detention center. Once free, he struggled to adjust to high school. But Cellestine credited Patterson with helping him pull through.

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Patterson,” Cellestine said at his sentencing in 2010, “I would never have finished my senior paper and graduated.”

In September 2009, Cellestine was 18 and finished with school. Patterson had finished class and, as he urged others to do, commuted home by bicycle. He’d had a scare a year before, his friend Sherine West told The Columbian newspaper in 2010, when a car struck him on St. Johns Road on his way home.

This time, Patterson was headed north on the same street when Cellestine happened to be driving behind him. Patterson was hit with such force that a police sergeant would later testify to collecting pieces of Patterson’s helmet from the street.

This tragedy is a powerful reminder of the danger texting and driving poses for society — driver and victims. The penalties for texting and driving have been increasing, with hefty fines, jail time, and revocation of driving privileges on the horizon. Additionally, as more bicyclists join the road, texting and driving is becoming an even greater public health hazard.

In addition to not texting and driving, students can be a vital part of the movement to end distracted driving. Get involved in your school or community.

Young Race Driver and TADD Spokesperson Profiled in Inside Polk Magazine

Dylan Martin, the young Florida State race driver making a name for himself on the local and national scenes, was profiled in the latest issue of Inside Polk. Among his career highlights and personal story of becoming involved in racing, he gives a big shout-out to Teens Against Distracted Driving. Thanks, Dylan! From the article:

In tandem with having an influence on youngsters at the track, there are some special kids far from the track that also get Dylan’s attention. The young driver is a spokesperson for T.A.D.D. (Teens Against Distracted Driving), and he regularly speaks to kids about the dangers of texting and other negative behaviors while behind the wheel. This year he will speak at over 75 schools and hospitals, hoping to have a positive effect on kids and encouraging them to fasten their seatbelts in the car and wear helmets when on a bike.

“I’m not just a spokesman or a driver; if I can do this, they can, too,” Dylan said.

Read the full article on Inside Polk Magazine.

Federal Way teens pledge to stop texting while driving

Teens Against Distracted Driving (TADD) most recently presented to the students of Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, WA.

A big thank you goes out to: Diana Jones, the mother of Ashely Jones, for sharing her family’s painful story, Federal Way Police Officer John Stray for speaking about distracted driving laws, and every student and faculty member that attended.

You can read the article from the Federal Way Mirror here.

Head on Crash Kills Woman and Her Unborn Son

22-year-old Daniel Pereira plead guilty to reckless driving during an accident in Washington Township that killed Toni Donato-Bolis and her unborn son. Pereira was allegedly texting while driving when his car drifted into the oncoming lanes of traffic, causing the car in front of Donato-Bolis’ to swerved, striking her car head on.

Pereira will pay a $257 fine, lose his license for a year — the maximum penalty for reckless driving — and must attend one anti-distracted driving presentation a year for the next three years. These presentations are given at local schools by Donato-Bolis’ sister, Angela Donato. Pereira is facing no criminal charges, deeply upsetting Donato-Bolis’s family. They contend that they will continue to “fight for justice” and the passing of new, harsher laws.

What are your thoughts? Read the full article and sound off below.

School Bus Driver Caught Texting and Driving

A school bus driver in Arlington, WA was caught texting and driving when an 8th grade passenger snapped a blurry, but identifiable photo. According to the school district, the driver was punished with the “maximum allowable action for her,” but is back on the road because of her previous good standing. Read the full story and watch the video here.

What Would You Do to Keep Your Teen Safe?

Teens are some of the most at-risk drivers on the road. Their lack of experience and questionable judgment makes them easy targets for traffic accidents. Statistically, a 2007 study showed that the leading cause of death for 13-19 year old males and females in the United States were auto accidents. Therefore it is understandable that vehicle safety would be on the minds of many parents. In reaction to this, an app was created that would allow parents to keep an eye on their child’s driving. Problems start to arise, though, when you find out just how the app works. The teen gets a personalized bumper sticker on their car so that other drivers can report unsafe driving maneuvers to their parents. The issue with this is obvious—in order to report the errant teen, the other driver would have to text and drive (or at the very least, jot down the info for later as they drive.) This would compound an already dangerous situation further. Texting and driving is incredibly risky, as is anything else that takes your eyes off the road. The best way to prevent an accident from happening to your child is to have a frank conversation with them about the danger that driving poses and that putting down their phone while behind the wheel might just save their life, or the life of someone else.

Here is a video of an alternate application that could help prevent texting and driving: