Local kids combat texting & driving

By Erin Tierney

The Creswell Chronicle

Twenty-seven Lane County kids have paired up with a local photographer to help prevent texting while driving. The campaign, #XtheTXT, is comprised of five billboards in the Eugene-Springfield area that remind drivers — especially teens — to put the phone down.

By observing our peers around us, it’s easy to see why they found merit in this campaign. After all, according to national statistics, texting and driving is the leading cause of death for American teens.

In Oregon, a crash caused by distracted driving occurs approximately every three hours, according to a report from the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Task Force. It has become an epidemic facing the country and the state, with traffic fatalities and injuries increasing each year.

Fiddling with our phones has become force of habit and our desire to be virtually connected sometimes outweighs our own common sense.

We all know how things can happen in the blink of a moment. Department of Transportation data shows that 11 American teenagers die every single day from texting and driving — and that is just teens. What’s more, 21 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones.

Bruce Berg of Bruce Berg Photography in Springfield has been running this campaign for five years. He uses high school juniors who will be incoming seniors to model on the billboards and be senior representatives for the campaign.

“Working with high school students all year long, I am cognizantly aware that texting while driving is all too common among their peers,” Berg said. “This is the time when teens are just starting to drive, so my idea is to get to them early so that they may also influence their peers (not to text and drive).”

Berg said what sparked this campaign was the lack of education around the topic. He said his daughter has participated in a staged accidents as a consequence of drunk driving, but the dangers of texting and driving were hardly mentioned during the demonstration.

According to national statistics, texting and driving is six times more likely to get you in an accident than drunk driving.

“This is a positive campaign that aims to bring attention to the problem — a problem that will continue until car manufacturers find a way to prevent texting and driving,” Berg said.

The high schools represented are Creswell, Pleasant Hill, Springfield, Sheldon, Thurston, South Eugene, North Eugene, Churchill, Marist, Willamette and Oregon Connections Academy.

Alexia Vinje, Eli Ream and Anna Mercer are part of the Creswell campaign crew and Tyler Bryson and Analisa Ziolklowski are participating from Pleasant Hill. The teens must take a pledge before signing onto this campaign that they will never text while driving.

Mercer, 17, is an incoming senior at Creswell High School. Texting and driving “destroys so many lives in every year, and this campaign is a small reminder — a promise not to text and drive,” she said.

Mercer said she sees people texting while driving all the time.

“I was recently at a gas station and I saw kids driving and texting coming into the lot,” Mercer said. “It happens all the time; a lot of kids do it and it’s sad to see.”

Mercer said she knows a lot of people who have suffered accidents as a result of texting and driving.

“It’s so easy to send one text and get in an accident,” Mercer said. “If we stop one person from texting and driving, (this campaign) will all be worth it.”

Bryson, 17, is a senior at Pleasant Hill High School and says he, too, sees texting and driving all the time.

“I’ve been trying to be a voice of reason for not texting and driving,” Bryson said. “I’ll tell my friends to stop (texting) and pay attention. It’s something I always enforce and I hope (the message) gets out there.”

He said that he also sees teens blowing off warnings not to text and drive by their parents and peers, thinking it’s no big deal.

According to an AAA poll, 94 percent of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35 percent admitted to doing it anyway.

“I’m hoping (through this campaign) that some kids will actually just think about it and it’ll stick and encourage others not to,” Bryson said. “Life happens just so fast and you never know what could happen.”

National statistics report that the chances of a crash for any reason is increased 23 times when you are texting. Even if the crash is another driver’s fault, you may have been able to avoid it if you had been looking at the road instead of the phone.

The five sponsors of this campaign are orthodontist Dr. Ben Sutter, of For Beautiful Smiles; Nation’s Mini-Mix Inc.; Waddell & Reed Inc. Financial Advisors; Papé Group; and State Farm Insurance Agent Nic Smith.

If you’re looking to scope out the billboards, here’s where you can find them:

Vinje’s and Mercer’s billboard can be seen on the Randy Papé Beltline going west, just after the Northwest Expressway exit on the left side of the road. Ream’s billboard can be seen going west on Interstate 105, just before the Pioneer Parkway exit in Springfield, on the right side of the road. Bryson’s billboard can be seen on I-105 going toward Thurston on the left side, just before Highbanks, while Ziolklowski’s billboard can be seen on Coburg Road across from Trader Joe’s.

Berg is already seeking models to be part of next year’s campaign. For more information, contact Berg at bruce@bruceberg.com or call 541-726-6119.

Visit AllState.com for more information on the #XtheTXT movement and partake in their virtual reality driving simulator, Reality Rides, which is a hands-on experience that encourages its participants to take the X the TXT pledge.

Visit donttextdrive.com for more statistics on texting and driving.