Joey Leonard, 17, was driving while texting on a cell phone with a friend when he glanced down for an instant and took his eye off the road.
“I was thinking I had plenty of room (in traffic),” Leonard said. “When I looked up, I saw brake lights and there was no time to stop.”
Leonard smacked his BMW into the rear bumper of a Honda in what turned out to be a minor fender-bender.
“The first thing that hit me was, I can’t believe I’m so stupid to do this,” Leonard said. “You can’t do it. I don’t even touch my phone when I’m in my car now.”
On Friday, Leonard, a member of East Hall High School’s Students Against Destructive Driving chapter, implored members of the student body to sign a pledge to not text or talk with a hand-held cell phone while driving. The assembly was part of “The Great Hang Up,” a campaign in Georgia high schools sponsored by television station WXIA.
Call it a sign of the times — whereas teens once were shown films of wrecked cars and heard the stories of fatal crash victims to underscore the dangers of drinking and driving, now texting and driving is getting equal attention.
Hall County Sheriff’s deputies have taught classes on the risks of cell phone use while driving, and on Friday, students watched a video interview with the parents of Victoria Heil, an 18-year-old Woodstock cheerleader who was killed in a crash blamed on texting and driving in December 2008.
“I’m not here to sell you on the dangers of texting and driving, because you know them,” said John Gerard, a television news reporter.
As for teen attitudes, a show of hands may have been the most revealing. When asked who uses a cell phone while driving, more than half of the students in the bleachers raised their hands. But less than half raised their hands when asked if they would support
legislation banning hand-held phone use while driving.
Leonard said his fellow teens should be more responsible.
“If we don’t support drinking and driving, we shouldn’t support texting and driving,” he said.
East Hall’s SADD chapter is in the running for a $10,000 federal grant that would allow the group to spread the word and lobby lawmakers. The group is among 20 finalists nationwide.
Principal Jeff Cooper acknowledged that getting teens to hang up while driving is a hard sell.
“You would hope they paid attention to the presentation and saw what can happen,” Cooper said. “The more you deliver the message, the more they see how it applies to themselves.”
Jacquez Stephens, 17, doesn’t yet have a car but has already made the pledge.
“I’m signing the pledge because I think it’s right,” he said.