West students learn texting-driving hazards

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 15, 2011

By Jim Buice
The Clemmons Courier

Reid Alberts didn’t need to take the “Don’t Text and Drive” test last Thursday at West Forsyth to know the dangers involved.
“I ran over five mailboxes one day when I was texting,” Alberts said. “I was in my neighborhood, too. I didn’t mean to. I was just texting, and then I heard ‘boom,’ and I looked back and saw the mailboxes. Our mailboxes are pretty close together. It was a big mess. I was thinking maybe this isn’t a good idea.”
Alberts confirmed that again when the North Carolina State Highway Patrol brought its program to West Forsyth when he tried to text while driving a golf cart through a series of orange cones in one of the school’s parking lots.
“I killed like five people going through the thing,” Alberts said of driving through the twists and turns of the course while texting. “I literally did. He (the trooper) said one bump equals a foot, two bumps equals a leg, three bumps equals you’ve already killed somebody. I think I ran over seven or eight cones in the first little alleyway. I just wiped them out. The experience I had doing that made me realize that texting while driving is simply not worth it.”
The N.C. Highway Patrol hopes other students at West and at the other high schools they visit feel the same way. Kevin Hennelly, one of the state troopers on hand for the demonstration, said they have gone to about 60 high schools across the state, including many in the area, to show them what could happen when they text and drive.
“We show them what a distraction it is and why it’s against the law,” Hennelly said of the program, which was started in 2009 to prevent teen deaths on the highways. “They say, ‘It’s the law, it’s the law.’ I love to show you why it’s the law. It’s dangerous. You can’t do it. It’s not to give you a hard or take money from you. The fine to me is not much. It’s $100, and that’s it. We focus on our teens because car accidents are their leading cause of death. We want to keep them alive.”
The road courses were set up like space on a rural highway. Students would drive through the course first and then come back through again and have one of their friends text them with their phone in hand as they read they words — and wiped out the cones. Students were also shown three short video clips that showed death and permanent injuries resulting from driving while texting.
Hennelly also has a personal interest in the program.
“I have a teen driver,” Hennelly said. They see they can’t do it when they try this. No one can do it. They’re always fooling with their cell phone. Everyone has to get out of the habit of grabbing that phone when it rings. Let it go. There’s nothing that important. Pull over if you have to.”
Rhonda Powell, an assistant principal at West, helped coordinate the “eye-opening experience” for the students.
“We’re fortunate the trooper stopped by to see us,” Powell said. “We decided it would be a great program for the kids. I think they learned a lot about the dangers of texting and driving.”
Powell said she and some of the other teachers also found out from the troopers that in addition to texting, it is also against the law for young drivers to even talk on their cell phones unless they are 18 or older.
She said she would like for the N.C. Highway Patrol to come back in the fall for a repeat performance. Powell estimated about 375 students participated in last Thursday’s program.
“We would like to try it again in the fall and see if we can reach even more students,” she said.