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May 19, 2019

Jamie Taylor/river news PHOTOS

Sgt. Bryan Wrycha of the Wisconsin State Patrol explains the legal ramifications of distracted driving.
Jamie Taylor/river news PHOTOS

Sgt. Bryan Wrycha of the Wisconsin State Patrol explains the legal ramifications of distracted driving.
Rhinelander High School student Mariah Kintop reacts to getting involved in an accident while using the AAA driving simulator Friday, April 26, 2019 at Rhinelander High School. Nick Jarmusz of AAA, with microphone, explains to the audience what is going on.
Rhinelander High School student Mariah Kintop reacts to getting involved in an accident while using the AAA driving simulator Friday, April 26, 2019 at Rhinelander High School. Nick Jarmusz of AAA, with microphone, explains to the audience what is going on.
4/30/2019 7:30:00 AM
It Can Wait: RHS students receive attention-getting lesson on distracted driving

Jamie Taylor
River News Reporter


On the night before their prom, Rhinelander High School students heard a presentation on the dangers of distracted driving, which includes texting or otherwise using a smartphone while behind the wheel.

The "It Can Wait" event was presented by AT&T Wisconsin, AAA and the Wisconsin State Patrol.

After an introduction by RHS principal Shane Dornfeld, Robyn Gruner of AT&T Wisconsin explained the impetus for the "It Can Wait" campaign. She said the original public service campaign AT&T launched over nine years ago was aimed at just texting and driving but has since evolved over the years to encompass all distractions drivers can face.

"New research from AT&T shows 81 percent of people admit to texting while behind the wheel while driving," Gruner said. "But that's not all they're doing; people are playing music, snapping photos, viewing photos, emailing, accessing social media, watching videos, video chatting - and we've all seen this - creating videos while they are driving a vehicle. Nearly four in 10 call distracted driving a habit ... nearly a quarter of the people don't see it as a major problem."

The "very, very troubling" data caused the carrier to expand its education efforts to all forms of distracted driving, she explained.

"We are targeting you, our teens, because we know how connected you are to each other, and we know how connected you are to social media and to your devices," Gruner said. "And despite the fact that the state of Wisconsin has a law that bans texting while driving, we know you're still doing it."

Since 2010, AT&T has inspired over 36,000 people to pledge to never text while driving, Gruner said. She also encouraged those in attendance to visit the website and do the same.

"We want to keep your eyes on the road, not on your phone," she said, noting that passengers can make a difference by speaking up when the driver starts using a cellphone or otherwise practices distracted driving.

Gruner then showed the students two short documentaries that are part of AT&T's "The Face of Distracted Driving" series that feature the stories of teenage boys who were killed as a result of smartphone distracted driving. The two videos focused on the parents, siblings and other family members of those killed recounting what they went through upon hearing the news and how they have tried to move on since then.

State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and State Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) were next to speak.

Both men said that like many of the teens in the audience, they rely on their cellphones as part of their everyday life.

"This is not a right," Tiffany said holding up his own cellphone. "You do not have a right to use your phone, this is a privilege. And, as many of you know, privileges can be taken away when they're abused."

Swearingen said everyone wants to see their classmates at the next sporting event, prom and graduation. He urged everyone to go to the ItCanWait.org website and take the pledge.

Sgt. Bryan Wrycha of the Wisconsin State Patrol started by asking how many people in the audience have texted and driven.

"This is what we want to change, we want to change this attitude," Wrycha said. "We don't want you to become a statistic."

He then gave out some statistics, including that every hour in Wisconsin there are three crashes caused by a distracted driver. In the last five years, there have been over 119,000 crashes with distracting driving as a cause, with over a third resulting in injuries and almost 450 fatalities.

"The person texting while behind the wheel takes their eyes of the road for an average of four seconds," Wrycha said. "At 55 m.p.h., that's like traveling the length of your football field out here blindfolded."

Because of the dangers texting or other forms of distracted driving, the State Patrol is dedicated to enforcing violations when they are seen, he added.

He also reminded the teens that in addition to the state prohibition on texting and driving, those with instructional or probationary licenses have additional restrictions. In addition, fines and points double for every ticket after their first while they are in that status, he added.

Nick Jarmusz of AAA then had students Connor Gehrig, Mariah Freeman and Destyne Kintop try their hand at a driving simulator while trying to use their cellphone to look up the showtime for a movie. While Gehrig and Freeman ran stop signs and committed other traffic offenses, Kintop got involved in a "major crash" at an intersection.

According to an AT&T press release, the It Can Wait campaign has turned into a national social movement with support from organizations all over the country.  Since 2010, AT&T, AAA and the State Patrol have partnered together to hold events in 161 communities throughout Wisconsin, involving 174 high schools and reaching over 61,500 students.

Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.



Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2019
Article comment by: Jerry Peterson

Unfortunately, it is not just the young people who are texting and driving. On my way to Wausau, last week, I had two different vehicles in front of me on I-39 south. Both were having trouble staying in their lane and maintain the posted speed limit. Both drivers were going between 50 mph and 70 mph. When I finally got a chance to pass each one safely, one was a young man in his 20's, the other a woman about 40. I don't have a suggestion for preventing this, other than offering this program to drivers of all ages. Maybe it would finally get their attention.



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