By Jody Kerzman
The statistics are staggering.
According to AT&T, 43 percent of teens text while driving, 73 percent of teens look at their phones at a stop light, and 89 percent of teens expect a response to a text within five minutes. That’s despite the fact that texting and driving is against the law.
“We know it’s not safe and there is pressure not to do it, but teens still text and drive,” says Sydney.
Sydney points to one statistic that may explain that behavior: AT&T says 77 percent of teens see their parents text and drive.
“It becomes a habit, and it is hard to break that habit. Teenagers may not ever actually admit it, but we do look up to our parents, and we take cues from them about what’s ok to do. So if our parents text while driving, we probably will too“ she explains.
Sydney is doing something to change those statistics. At just 15-years old, she’s partnered with several organizations – including AT&T, the North Dakota Safety Council, the North Dakota Department of Transportation, and AAA – to spread the word about the dangers of texting and driving. She’s got the perfect avenue to do just that: in November, Sydney was crowned Miss State Capitol Outstanding Teen. Along with the crown came the chance to adopt a platform. Sydney immediately knew her platform would be texting and driving.
“I was crowned right around the same time I was getting my driver’s license,” she says. “I became the driver in my group of friends, and when I was driving to pick them up, I realized just how tempting it was to check my phone while driving. I figured I wasn’t the only one.”
Sydney started doing some research and what she found further convinced her of the importance of her platform, “Texting and Driving: It Can Wait.”
“I learned that texting and driving makes you two times more likely to be in an accident. It’s not just texting though. Statistics find that four out of ten drivers admit they use social media while driving. I believe that’s true. I see people posting to Facebook and Instagram while driving and I get Snapchats from people all the time who are stopped at red lights or driving. It makes me so mad. I never respond to them. I know people are on other social media sites while driving too, and I hear them say all the time it’s no big deal because they’re at a red light. But it is a very big deal.”
Sydney says there are ways to remove the temptation to text and drive. The easiest is simply putting your phone out of reach. She also suggests if there are others in the car with you, have a designated texter to respond to incoming texts.
“There is also an app you can download that responds to texts for you. It sends a response that says ‘Sorry, can’t talk. I’m driving.’ It’s just enough to let your friends know what’s going on, which is important. I think teens expect a return text immediately, that that’s not always a safe thing to do,” explains Sydney.
And while teens know the dangers, they continue to text and drive. Sydney is doing her part to will spread the message. She’s planning presentations for her fellow students at Bismarck High School and will speak to several other groups as well. She’s set up a hashtag #itcanwait and will be asking all drivers, not just teens, to take a pledge not to text and drive. You can take the pledge at www.itcanwait.com/pledge.
“There just isn’t a text or a social media post so important that it can’t wait until you’re parked. I want to get that message through to my peers,” says Sydney. “I don’t want my friends and classmates to get into a crash because they were texting.”