Students Crusade Against Car Texting

Payson Project Ignition group goes to DC to train


Natalie Black jotted down ideas for a brainstorming session on how to convince teens not to text while driving and other distracting activities.

Natalie Black jotted down ideas for a brainstorming session on how to convince teens not to text while driving and other distracting activities.

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How do you keep teenagers from killing themselves in a moment of stupidity?

That’s the question facing a group of Payson teenagers, charged with convincing Arizona teens to give up the deadly habit of texting while driving.

Just back from a conference in Washington, D.C., the four Payson teenagers now must help develop a public education campaign for the entire state.

Shelly Camp serves as the adviser for Project Ignition, which involves maybe a dozen kids in the Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) group in the effort to educate their peers about the dangers of distracted driving.

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Photos courtesy Project Ignition

Anthony Smith, Natalie Black, Austin Shannon, Megan Wessel and Shelly Camp at the Lincoln Memorial.

Distracted driving is the No. 1 killer of teens according to a study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, State Farm Insurance and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In a National Teen Driver Survey, 90 percent of teen drivers claim they don’t drink and drive, but nine out of 10 say they have seen passengers distracting the driver, or drivers using cell phones.

Simply listening to music or conversation decreases brain power by 40 percent a study by the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University study proved. Imagine what taking the eyes off the road and focusing on a text does to a driver, say Project Ignition students.

For the Washington, D.C. summit, Natalie Black and Camp filled out an application that brought in the money to finance the trip to the national conference on distracted teen driving.

Payson’s SADD and Project Ignition group regularly receive recognition for their work, said Black.

Organizers picked Payson to represent all Arizona schools.

State Farm sponsors the summit for its national program “Project Ignition.” The company awards grants to high school student service-learning groups to teach their peers about distracted driving — the No. 1 killer of teens.

Some of the ways students have educated fellow students include:

• Role-playing teen driver safety issues through classroom physics, math, English and drama programs.

• Interactive presentations in lunch rooms and community fairs.

• Public service announcements.

• Designing Web sites and

• Meeting local and state politicians to improve laws against drinking, texting or using cell phones while driving.

“We were invited to submit a proposal explaining how we would get the message out that distracted driving is the No. 1 killer of teens and texting while driving needs to end,” said Camp.

Four students, Black, Anthony Smith, Megan Wessel and Austin Shannon along with Camp had all of their travel, lodging and summit expenses sponsored by AT&T.

The purpose of the summit was to train the Payson students to put on a conference for all of the other high schools in Arizona that participate in Project Ignition.

The sponsors of the conference, AT&T, Project Ignition and the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) organized seminars, group projects and training in Public Relations (PR) and networking, said Camp.

“We spent four days in Washington. I learned how to unite. We need to come together or they won’t listen to us,” said Black.

The Payson group shared ideas for conferences and speakers with students from other states. Professional PR staff from AT&T worked with Smith to create a powerful piece to publish. Black said the conference energized the group and focused their efforts.

Originally, the Payson Project Ignition group wanted to sponsor a statewide conference, but has now focused on creating a lobbying day with Arizona legislators, said Camp.

“We’re hoping to get 200 kids together through student government associations, Students Against Destructive Decision groups, Project Ignition groups and personal phone calls for this lobbying day,” said Camp.

Already the group has started working closely with State Representative Steve Farley from Tucson. He has tried to pass legislation to prohibit texting while driving.

Black hopes the lobbying day will finally inspire legislators to change the laws on texting while driving.

“We’ve been trying to talk to legislators since I was a freshman. We feel (the lobbying day) will make more of an impact. I honestly don’t understand why they won’t listen to us. (Texting while driving) should be completely gone,” said Black.

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