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Driving is no time to multitask, Shreveport lawyers teach high school students

Kate Archer Kent

New research from AT&T finds that drivers using their smartphones behind the wheel aren’t just texting. They’re emailing, web browsing, tweeting and even video chatting.

A trial lawyers association in Louisiana is raising awareness about distracted driving. The Shreveport law firm Gregorio, Chafin & Johnson has presented the End Distracted Driving Student Awareness Initiative to more than 7,000 high school students. 17-year-old Briauna Vance heard the message at Captain Shreve High School.

“They had actual stories to tell about things that happened, instead of just saying, ‘Don’t text and drive, be safe.’ It really helped,” Vance said. “There were a lot of people crying in there because it was so emotional. It felt real for once.”

Attorney Sam Gregorio says texting is not the only culprit. He cites an array of distractions and gives practical steps for teen passengers who want their friends to be more attentive to the road.

“The students who participate talk about how it’s increased their awareness, and changed their driving habits and the way they act,” Gregorio said. “There are some simple steps for students who can use it immediately to help. It’s designed to be motivational, educational, informational and interactive.”

Vance is fortunate. Last year, she had an accident when she took her eyes off the wheel. During the presentation, she stood up and told her peers what happened.

“I was using a GPS while I was driving and it fell. I reached down on the floorboard to pick it up, and when I looked back I saw there was a car in front of me,” Vance recalled. “I couldn’t stop fast enough and I hit the car. I passed out, and I had to be taken to the hospital. It was very traumatizing, and I felt like other people needed to know that this can happen.”

Vance says now she rarely keeps her smartphone with her.

Attorney Scott Chafin tells students that multitasking is not possible behind the wheel.

“Everything from eating behind the wheel to someone who talked about practicing the guitar on his way to music lessons – when they hear their fellow students share those stories, it really creates a shared common experience, and they focus on making the right choice,” Chafin said.

Gregorio aims to take this program, developed by a Philadelphia attorney in 2009, to more high schools in the fall. He says driver distraction plays a part in 80 percent of vehicle crashes.

The end distracted driving student initiative is sponsored by the Casey Feldman Foundation and is delivered by a network of more than 800 trial lawyers who have volunteered thousands of hours to this cause, according to the foundation's literature.