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Flowery Branch student drivers warned about new texting ban
Flowery Branch High students Marissa Ivey, left, and C.J. Navin take part in a distraction experiment during Tuesday’s assembly to educate students on the dangers of texting and other types of behavior while driving.

Nine states, including Georgia, have banned text messaging while driving. But that doesn't stop some drivers from taking the risk.

"Are we going to stop everyone? No," state Rep. Allen Peake said. "Hopefully we will save some lives though."

He brought his message to Flowery Branch High School on Tuesday, where the school held an assembly to educate students about the dangers of distracted driving. The law targeting those who text while driving went into effect in July.

Peake, who worked on the legislation, said he believes strict enforcement and education will help make people think twice when behind the wheel.

If young people can change their behavior now, he said, they will see the value as adults.

"Studies show that it is more dangerous to be on the road with people who are texting than a bunch of people who are drunk," Peake said.

Sgt. Kelley Edwards of the Hall County Sheriff's Office told students about the penalties of texting while driving, which include a $150 fine.

While off duty, Edwards said, he has seen drivers steer with their knees while using their hands to type out a quick message.

"I've even seen people putting on makeup, reading newspapers and eating," he said.

He said these extreme multitaskers are putting their lives at serious risk.

"The main focus of the driver is to pay attention to everything on the road," Edwards said. "Otherwise they could miss seeing a danger that could've been avoided."

Friends Josh Elder, Brian Martinez and Daniela Hernandez of Flowery Branch High admit they've sent text messages, checked e-mails and looked at the popular social networking site Facebook while driving.

The teens said they usually pull out their phones when braking at stoplights or stop signs.

However, even in a stopped vehicle, drivers can still be pulled over for texting, Edwards said.

"The car has got to be properly parked," he said.

Under the law in Georgia, drivers younger than 18 are not permitted to use a cell phone, and text messaging, e-mailing, instant messaging and Internet surfing is banned for all drivers.

The Illinois-based National Safety Council estimates 28 percent of crashes, or 1.6 million annually, are caused by drivers talking or texting on cell phones.

Edwards said there have been traffic stops in Hall County for texting since July, but it's often challenging to prove the law was broken. There are no bans on hand-held devices, and texting can look similar to a phone call.

"If we see you press more than 10 buttons, you will get stopped," Edwards told the students.

Drivers also have lowered the phones below the windows to avoid police detection, Edwards said.

He said he believes public education campaigns are making a difference, and hopes the students will decide to use common sense.

"Hopefully they will leave their phone in their pocketbooks or consoles," he said.

Flowery Branch High School was one of three schools in the state selected for the "Don't Text and Drive" assembly by Atlanta's Star 94 FM.


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