"Where u at?"
Those three words were the last text message Mariah West read before the violent car crash that took her life.
"It was the day before my daughter’s graduation from high school. She was on her way to a ball game and was getting directions," says Merry Dye, Mariah's mother. "The eyewitness report says for no apparent reason, she lost control of her car, crossed the center median, clipped a bridge, then flipped across two more lanes of traffic. No parent wants to receive that phone call."
Dye shares her story in a new documentary, "Texting Can Wait," which she hopes will send a clear message to teen drivers.
"In just three seconds, if you’re going down the interstate, you can cover the length of, I think, five football fields. A lot can happen in that amount of distance in that short amount of time. It’s not a matter of if you would have an accident, but when."
The 10-minute documentary is available on the Internet and was produced by AT&T, a telecommunication company that makes cellphones and other devices teens can use to text.
"We realized that the most effective way to actually bring the message to teenagers and adults would be to tell real stories," says Gail Torreano, a senior vice president at AT&T. "We have a young man in the documentary, Will, who was a passenger in a car and was in an accident. He has suffered brain damage as a result of that."
Studies have shown people who text while driving are six-to-eight times more likely to have an accident than drivers who are focused on the road. According to the latest available government statistics, nearly 6,000 deaths on U.S. highways in 2008 were due to distracted driving. The "Texting Can Wait" documentary, Torreano says, is one of the tools AT&T is using in its campaign against distracted driving.
"We’re trying to share this documentary so that more and more teenagers will see it," says Gail Torreano. "We actually do have employees in all states. We’ve had employees take it directly to schools. But we also have a partnership with the National Organization for Youth Safety and they have all sorts of contacts in the educational system across the country. So they too are going to do that."
Sandy Spavone, executive director of the National Organization for Youth Safety, says texting while driving is so dangerous because it demands a great deal of attention.
"The problem with texting behind the wheel is that it includes all three distractions," says Spavone. "It’s a visual distraction because many of them still glance down at their phone to either read the text or to grab their phone to see who sent them a text so they can respond. You also have the manual distraction, which takes their hands off the wheel so they can text, as well as the cognitive distraction where they are taking their minds off what they are doing, either reading the text or responding to a friend."
The "It Can Wait" campaign empowers teens to be part of the solution.
"'It Can Wait Campaign' helped us develop a teen-distracted-driving leadership team of 20 youths from across the country. These teens came to the Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Summit," says Spavone. "They have created a program of work they are hosting in their local communities."
The ultimate goal of the campaign is to make sure teen drivers get the message that texting behind the wheel is an unacceptable and dangerous behavior - one that can wait until you’re out of traffic.