The prevalence of people texting while driving so alarmed Taylor McChesney that the Evans High School senior decided to devote two school projects to it.
As part of her Family, Career and Community Leaders of America project, Taylor wanted to let students see firsthand the dangers of texting while operating a vehicle, so she arranged for AT&T to bring the It Can Wait car simulator to the Evans campus.
Students were given special goggles to wear while behind the wheel as they texted a generic message. Nearly 100 students participated.
Most students wrecked before 30 seconds had elapsed with only two people – a teacher and a student – lasting the full four minutes, said Taylor, who is Evans’ FCCLA president.
“I did have a couple of students come up to me and tell me that it did really open their eyes, and they wouldn’t text and drive,” Taylor said. “I’m glad that I could have that impact, because that’s all I wanted to do.”
Each participating student signed a pledge promising to never text and drive.
Taylor also raised awareness by making a commercial for her senior project. The spot depicted a student texting her mother while driving. The video, which aired at school, ended with a crash and Taylor expressing the importance of safe driving.
“I didn’t really realize how many students did text and drive,” Taylor said. “Now going down the road, I can look to my right or left and I see adults texting and driving, too.”
Though texting and driving is illegal in Georgia, distracted driving remains a leading factor in wrecks across the nation.
In 2010, more than 3,000 people in the United States were killed in distracted-driving wrecks, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Web site.
Cellphone use also was reported in 18 percent of distraction-related fatalities, according to the site.
“We knew it was a hot topic,” FCCLA adviser Gail Sims said. “We all go down the road and see people with that phone in their hand, and that’s just a few seconds away from an accident.”
Taylor eliminates temptation she has to text in the car by putting her phone in a place she can’t reach.
“I keep my phone in my purse in the back seat,” she said.
Taylor wanted to take her message outside the school and into the community.
During a children’s festival in downtown Augusta earlier this school year, Taylor reached out to parents.
“I really tried to stress to them that they have to lead by example by being a parent,” she said. “Your children see you text and drive.”
Taylor’s campaign will be put to the test in February when she begins competing in the FCCLA STAR events, where she’ll give a 10-minute presentation on her topic. Her goal is to advance to the national competition in July in Nashville.
Last year, Taylor tackled bullying as her project and received the top score among 100 competitors from Georgia in the national contest in Orlando, Fla., Sims said.
Taylor, an FCCLA member for five years, hopes to teach fourth- or fifth-grade children after attending Georgia Regents University, where she recently signed to play softball.
“You’ve got to like children,” said Sims of Taylor’s planned career path. “You have to have to have a passion for what you’re doing.