A moment of distracted driving 18 months ago could have proven fatal for Gordo High School graduate Morgan Sanders. Instead, it provided inspiration for a campaign aimed at saving lives.
“My friend and I were on the way home from school, and she was super distracted,” said Sanders, 18. “She ran through a stop sign, and a truck slammed into us. I was in the hospital for six days and was on a walker for the next month or so with a broken pelvis and a fractured tailbone, and my friend had a few broken ribs. The chief of police said we shouldn’t have walked away from that wreck.”
Recognizing distracted driving is a growing trend nationwide, Sanders and Gordo classmates Cassidy Hardy and Maria Manning initiated a plan last August to raise awareness among others in their age group.
“We’ve seen first-hand how dangerous it is to text or be on social media sites while driving, and we knew we wanted to do something to help,” explained Hardy, 17.
That ‘something’ became a state-winning safety campaign that will be showcased at the National HOSA Competitive Events Program in Orlando later this month. Natalie Lavender, the students’ career tech and HOSA advisor, said their distracted driving entry marked the first time she’s had a team of students compete in the Health Education division of the national competition.
“The effects of distracted driving had already touched their lives, and they’ve done exactly what they set out to do — raise awareness,” Lavender said.
Nationwide, at least 10 people are killed and more than 1,060 are injured each day in crashes caused by distracted driving. The students’ “Put It To An End — Don’t Hit Send” campaign featured school and county-wide speaking engagements and a Fatal Decision Day in February, where more than 500 teens pledged not to text and drive. Alfa Insurance Agent Nick Tolstick donated e-Grips from the company’s “DRV NOW TXT L8R” campaign for students to hand out at school and other events as an additional reminder to practice safe driving habits.
“As a father and an insurance agent, it’s important to me to help try and curb distracted driving, especially among Alabama’s youth,” Tolstick said. “Cassidy, Maria and Morgan’s hard work not only won them first place at the state level, but may have saved lives.”
The students are working to expand their campaign statewide by meeting with Rep. Alan Harper, R-Aliceville, and Alabama Secretary of Law Enforcement Spencer Collier.
“Texting and driving is just as dangerous as drinking and driving,” said Hardy. “It’s the equivalent of driving blindfolded, but people don’t think of it like that. Distracted driving is a leading cause of death for people in our age group.”
Manning said the more she talked to students, the more she realized how big the problem was.
“We took a survey of students at Gordo, and a third admitted to visiting a website while driving,” said Manning, 18. “Nearly 60 percent said they definitely texted while driving, and of those, 45 percent said they did it because it was easy to do. They’re right; it’s too easy.”
For Sanders, the fact that 95 percent of students admitted they had been in a car while others texted is a stark reminder of her accident. To help combat the issue, Sanders is a walking-talking advocate for safety behind the wheel.
“I tell people to think about who they’ll leave behind if they die or how they’ll feel if they kill someone else over something so trivial,” she said. “It’s a hard reality, but it’s one we all need to listen to. We’re not invincible. I’m living proof of that.”