With one hand on the wheel and his eyes focused on his phone, Kameron Harris attempted to simultaneously send a text message and drive the golf cart along a path of cones.
But he couldn’t. Most of his focus was on his phone as multiple classmates texted him, distracting him from the road.
He ran over the cones.
“It was harder than I thought,” said Harris, a senior at Garner High School and a licensed driver. “I kept speeding up without noticing it.”
His teacher, Vickie Szarek, yelled out on her megaphone, “If you hit a cone and it wobbles, that means you have injured a person. If you hit a cone and knock it over that means you have killed them.”
Harris knocked over one cone and wobbled a few others.
As part of the school’s Anti-Texting and Driving Campaign, Garner police officers visited Garner High to teach students the importance of being safe while driving.
Szarek, a biology teacher and sponsor of the school’s Students Against Violence Everywhere program, has led the Anti-Texting and Driving Campaign for the past seven years.
“I don’t want to read about one of my students being in an accident and being killed because it was something as simple as, ‘it could have been stopped if they had not been texting while driving,’ Szarek said. “And texting is such a major portion of their lives these days. They just need to be able to put it to the side when they are driving because it is distracting.”
Garner police Sgt. Mike McIver said the same. He said most crashes in Garner are because the driver was distracted.
“We’re trying to demonstrate no matter how good of a driver you think you are, you’re going to mess up if you’re distracted,” McIver said.
With advances in technology, texting and driving has increased over the years, McIver said.
“And it’s going to get worse,” he said.
Garner police have responded to 21 wrecks since Jan. 2013 that specifically listed texting and cell phone use as the factor in the cause of a car crash. That compares to nine wrecks in 2012 and three wrecks in 2011.
It is against the law to text and drive in North Carolina.
General statute 20-137.4A states “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a vehicle on a public street or highway or public vehicular area while using a mobile telephone to:
• Manually enter multiple letters or text in the device as a means of communicating with another person; or
• Read any electronic mail or text message transmitted to the device or stored within the device, provided that this prohibition shall not apply to any name or number stored in the device nor to any caller identification information.”
In the past five years texting or emailing while driving convictions in North Carolina have increased significantly each year.
In 2009, when the law was first passed, two people were convicted statewide.
In 2013, 1,137 people in the state were convicted of texting or emailing while driving. McIver said texting while driving can be more distracting that driving under the influence of alcohol.
Yet, under the law, texting while driving “shall be an infraction and shall be punishable by a $100 fine and the costs of court.” No drivers license points or insurance surcharges are assessed.
McIver said texting and driving is hard to prove because there are circumstances in which someone can use the dial on their phone. For instance, in case of an emergency drivers are allow to dial a number.
“You have to catch them in the act,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot more tragedies before law makers see that it is an issue.”
Szarek said that the school plans to continue the campaign throughout the year, especially during prom season.
“If we can just reach one person, at least one, then maybe we’ve saved someone,” she said.