Seventeen-year-old Henry Newman knows how tempting it is to reach for his buzzing cellphone for a quick update from behind the wheel, so he makes sure to put the phone in his glove compartment.
“If you look away from the road for three seconds, it’s like driving through a football field blind,” he said. “There are too many things at risk (by) doing that.”
The soon-to-be Atascadero High School senior is a member of San Luis Obispo County’s branch of Friday Night Live, a statewide organization that promotes teen safety through school chapters that address alcohol, tobacco and other safety issues.
The teen program, run by the county, was aided by grant money Tuesday.
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The Allstate Foundation, a charitable arm of the Illinois-based insurance company, donated $500 to the San Luis Obispo County chapter.
The money will go toward Allstate’s X the Txt campaign, which targets the dangers of distracted driving by encouraging locals to pledge to stay safe.
In January 2009, it became illegal in California for motorists to read or write text messages while driving. Those caught receive a citation and a fine.
When drivers text while driving, it decreases their reaction time.
Nearly 5,500 people died in 2009 in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The statistic included all forms of distracted driving, including eating or fidgeting with the radio.
Newman said his group’s campaign needs to continue.
He was outraged recently when he saw a driver eating, talking on a cellphone and steering with one knee.
“We can’t emphasize how important it is to get this message out,” CHP Captain Bill Vail said.
Friday Night Live teens reached out with X the Txt to more than 7,500 students and adults at Arroyo Grande, Morro Bay, Atascadero, Templeton and Paso Robles high schools in the 2010-11 school year. They spoke at lunchtime activities, open houses, freshman orientations, local church youth groups and 4H programs.
The grant money will fund more work for the teens’ anti-text messaging campaign, specifically covering posters, bracelets and other materials and events.
“Our young people will drive the message because of their passion, but the extra funding is a bonus,” Friday Night Live coordinator Kim Mott said.
That passion is what keeps 17-year-old Kodie Hood committed to the messages she promotes from Friday Night Live.
“I definitely learned more from the personal stories I hear and get more involved with it,” she said. The soon-to-be Atascadero High School senior also said she’s been known to take her friends’ cellphones away when they use them while driving.
“I throw it in the back of the car,” she said. “I say, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to die. (Your cellphone) is really not that important. It can wait a minute.’ ”
The public can check out the teens’ campaign at the California Mid-State Fair and local farmers markets this summer.