Reinforce 'texting' warning, lest 'mock' becomes real again
Wednesday's mock trial for a girl charged with texting and driving and causing the death of a fellow student is likely the most important assembly of the year at local schools.
A new alternative to the annual "mock accident" that effectively sends a message about the dangers teens encounter in prom and graduation seasons, the mock trial was particularly important in regards to the "epidemic" of distracted driving, particularly among teens.
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"Epidemic" is how PennDOT officials describe the overwhelming occurrence of, not only texting, but other habits that take our eyes off the road. Last year in Pennsylvania, there were more than 14,000 accidents that involved distracted driving, resulting in 57 deaths. Over the last five years, 11 percent of the crashes in Pennsylvania - more than 1 in 10 - involved distracted drivers, those resulting in more than 300 deaths.
Text messaging while driving is prohibited for all drivers in Pennsylvania, with a fine of $50 for violators. But there are no statewide limits on cell phone use, so police face challenges in enforcing the law.
More than 1,300 citations were issued in the first year of the state's texting and driving law, which took effect last spring, but the number of crashes was still up over that period.
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More than a dozen students took part in the mock trial at Shamokin Area and it was witnessed by the student body from 10th through 12th grades.
These are the students who make daily decisions as to whether or not they should be texting while they drive. As Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley told them, "It is an offense you can be charged with, but more importantly, if you have one of your close friends - or anyone for that matter - die as a result of that, no amount of prison time is going to erase from your mind that you had caused a death."
Those are powerful words.
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Of course, there is no guarantee that any amount of warnings will prevent such tragedies. Consider that, last year, the student body at Shamokin Area witnessed the annual mock accident on May 7. Yet, nine days after graduation, on June 14, the class of 2012 lost one of its own in a crash, and the driver was charged with DUI.
With that, young drivers, take the warning to heart. And parents, use these lessons, real and "mock," to reinforce the point with your own children, lest we have another tragedy to jar our consciousness.