By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Some Rancho Bernardo High students have learned how difficult it is to drive while reading a text message.
The lesson was learned Friday morning when the Text Kills program visited the school.
“It made me realize (texting) is a lot more dangerous than I first thought it would be,” said Camille Verhofstadt, a 16-year-old junior.
She said for most teens it is difficult to not automatically reach for a cell phone when it signals a new text has arrived. “It’s automatic, instinctual to grab it.”
Verhofstadt said during the simulated exercise she crashed a few times as she tried to steer while reading cards with short messages on them. After the exercise she signed the bus, pledging to not text while driving for at least 12 months.
To keep the pledge, Verhofstadt said she plans to “silence my phone when in the car and not keep it where I can see it, but put it on the passenger’s seat.”
Principal Dave LeMaster, who also went through the exercise and signed the bus stating his pledge, said he found it difficult to not crash when reading messages.
“It’s very distracting,” LeMaster said. “I had to take my eyes off the road to look at something else.”
LeMaster said he welcomed the presentation on campus because many teens end up injuring or killing themselves or others because they are distracted drivers.
“The more who are aware of the danger of texting and driving the better,” he said.
The educational campaign is the idea of Wayne Irving, who said he began the program after his 15-year-old daughter requested his signature so she could get a learner’s permit.
“Over the previous year … she became very introverted and was texting even at the dinner table,” Irving said. “I thought, oh my God … my sweetheart will be behind the wheel and she can’t refrain from texting.”
First, he developed the DriveReply phone app that gives an automatic response to calls and texts informing the caller or sender that the recipient is driving and cannot answer. But because launching and promoting the app on a national scale required around $10 million, Irving said he founded a nonprofit organization through which the app could be accessed.
The app works on Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile phones, he said. Since launched in 2010, it has been downloaded more than two million times and is currently in use by about 600,000 users, Irving said.
The donation-sponsored, volunteer-based program began its third national tour in August in northern California. It is set to conclude in May when the bus arrives in Washington, D.C. During the trip the bus will stop at high schools, colleges and corporations to educate teens and adults alike on the danger they face by being a distracted driver.
Irving said the penalty for corporations can be several thousand dollars if employees text and drive while working.
“We’ve had overwhelming support … we’re welcomed everywhere,” Irving said, adding many they encounter have shared their personal stories of lives changed due to distracted driving.
Through the pledge people are asked to sign, they agree that texting is bad practice, for at least 12 months they will not text while driving and they will not use texting to commit cyber bullying.
For more information, go to www.textkills.com or www.facebook.com/textkills.