Teens ask drivers to commit to safe habits

DeKALB – DeKalb High School junior Maddy Johnson figures the dangers of adjusting music and texting while driving are bigger than most people realize.

“I would say music is another big thing too,” Johnson said of the growing trend of handheld devices connecting with car speakers to play music. “You’re really involved with the phone even if you’re not texting. You’re still looking down, trying to change what song it is.”

Johnson and 34 other students are participating in a State Farm Insurance initiative called Celebrate My Drive, designed to spread awareness about teen driving safety. About 2,800 U.S. and Canadian high schools are competing for 90 $25,000 grants and 10 $100,000 grants. The grand prize is a hometown concert by Grammy Award-winning singer Kelly Clarkson.

The numbers suggest that young drivers can be more susceptible to the dangers of distracted driving than those in older age groups.

Drivers ages 18 to 20 years old reported the highest level of “phone involvement” (13 percent) in a crash or near-crash in a national survey on distracted driving, according to an April 2012 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Eight percent were sending a text or email, 3 percent were reading a text or email, and 2 percent said they were talking on a cell phone.

But starting Oct. 18, participants commit to driving safely to help DeKalb High School win the competition. By logging on to and registering to support DeKalb High School, anyone 14 and older can participate. Participants need a valid email address and must enter their date of birth for confirmation.

Participants can log on and commit to safe driving once per day, each day, through Oct. 26. The more safe driving commitments made for DeKalb High School, the better the chance at winning $100,000 and hosting the concert.

Mark Sykes, DeKalb’s driver education teacher, and Tricia Maxwell, a DeKalb High School parent, are working with the students to promote the program and rally the community around safe driving.

“Teens are inundated with a lot more distractions than we were when I was a teen,” Sykes said. “With texting now available, more accidents have occurred and more lives have been lost due to distracted driving.”

He noted that distractions also include listening to music with ear buds, or even just having the volume too loud.

“I would say any electronic devices [can contribute to distraction] because it goes far beyond texting,” Sykes said. “Drinking and driving is still the No. 1 killer in American roadways, but statistics are showing that electronic devices are gaining, so that’s an area that we have to put a lot of focus on.”

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