Thanks to a Girl Scout project by Lauren Anderson, of Chesterfield, 500 students and adults at Parkway West High have pledged not to text and drive. Texting while driving is an ever-growing concern nationwide and it was this hot-topic that Anderson selected to help her earn her Gold Award, the Girl Scouts’ highest honor possible.
“I wanted to bring something relevant to my peers and adults within my sphere of influence. I thought if they heard the message ‘Don’t Text and Drive’ from a teenager, it would have a bigger impact than through a television ad or lecture by an adult,” Anderson explained.
Anderson learned that tenacity pays off. After proposing her project idea to the Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri (GSEM), she was required to tweak her outline several times before it was finally approved. To meet minimum requirements GSEM looks for a large-scale project that is innovative, engages others and has a lasting impact on its target audience with an emphasis on sustainability. The project also requires a minimum of 80 logged man hours.
During a specified week, Anderson highlighted this topic through posters hung around the school and brochures that were handed out during lunch. After school, she held three identical lectures with PowerPoint presentations.
“I learned that communication is the key to leadership. I learned that organization and planning in advance is important. I led volunteers in handing out brochures and I was a leader by teaching groups about the dangers of texting while driving.” Anderson said. “It has really bolstered my confidence as well.”
With less than1 percent of all Girl Scouts earning the Gold Award, Anderson is one of only 40 GSEM recipients, who were recognized at a reception at Maritz in July.
To continue this dialogue and keep the “Don’t Text and Drive” theme in the forefront and sustainable, Anderson is working with the Women of West, a community service and social club at Parkway West. She created a manual with detailed instructions and a brochure to pass along.
While her project did not extend outside her school, she has considered offering her project information in the community, such as at area police departments.
Missouri is one of 47 states nationwide that prohibits minors from texting while driving and can issue citations for doing so. In fact, as a primary law in Missouri, it can be the sole reason for being issued a citation. However, Missouri has no current state law prohibiting legal adults over age 18 from texting while operating a vehicle.
In response, the city of Manchester passed an ordinance effective Jan. 1, 2014, prohibiting all drivers, not just minors, from lawfully texting-and-driving. Manchester Police Chief Tim Walsh would like to see that be put in effect at a state level but acknowledges that this is a step in the right direction.
“Texting falls under the ‘distracted driver’ category and contributes to a number of accidents. Unfortunately, adults are guilty of it, too. This not a teen-only problem,” Walsh said.
In fact, distraction.gov, an official U.S. government site, reports that drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes. That number is higher than the 11 percent of 15- to 19-year-old drivers, which Anderson reported in her presentation.
“The root cause of the issue is the use of cellphones and the feeling of having to instantly respond by texting,” Anderson said.
She also reported that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road an average of 4.6 seconds, which when traveling at 55 mph, it is enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
Anderson explained that 25 percent of teens respond to a text message once or more every time they drive and distraction.gov reports that 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit to having extended, multi-message text conversations while driving. Currently, the municipalities of Chesterfield and Ballwin have no ordinance prohibiting texting over the age of majority, but concur that distractions have increased with the use of cellphones.
Distracted driving can include, but is not limited to, talking to passengers, eating/drinking, reading (including maps), using a navigation system and adjusting a radio, CD or MP3 player, not just using a cellphone.
Anderson hopes that her peers and the adults who have heard her message will:“be smart, do your part, don’t text and drive! Stay alive!