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COD event spotlights the dangers of texting and driving

Lauren Ellerby 18 from Glen Ellyn tries text drive scooter around course College DuPage as part 'It can wait' campaign.

Lauren Ellerby, 18, from Glen Ellyn tries to and text and drive a scooter around a course at College of DuPage as part of the "It can wait" campaign. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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More information and videos about the hazards of texting and driving can be found at these websites: (the “Last Text” video)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:08AM

A close call was enough to make Lauren Ellerby swear off texting and driving for good. She’s taken the pledge three times now.

When College of DuPage put on an event focused on the dangerous behavior this month, Ellerby came anyway. Some of her friends still drive and text at the same time.

“I know a couple of people who gloat about it,” said Ellerby, 18, a COD student who lives in Glen Ellyn. “Actually, one of them got into a fender-bender, and they kept doing it.”

So did Josh Tolentino, at first. The Aurora resident, who also attends COD, had two accidents while he was using his phone to send and receive text messages. In one of them, the car was a total loss.

“Phone’s off every time now in the car,” said Tolentino, 19, who recognizes there’s sometimes value in learning a thing the hard way. “I think I matured as a person.”

Most young drivers have heard the warnings. They might have seen the statistics, too, which suggest nearly a half-million people are injured or killed every year in auto accidents in which cell phone use is involved.

“No text is worth dying for,” said Valerie Bruggeman, who credits her teen-aged children with helping her break the habit of keeping her phone close at hand while she drives.

Now, she said, she tosses the phone in the glove compartment or the backseat before she turns on the ignition.

“Everybody thinks it’s not going to happen to them,” she said.

A former board member at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, Bruggeman is the director of external affairs for AT&T, which partnered with the college to present the hands-on event.

Thanks in part to aggressive campaigns designed to discourage texting and driving, such as AT&T’s “It Can Wait” initiative, more than a million people have pledged to put off the messaging until they’re done operating a vehicle. Bruggeman noted that studies show the habit is as dangerous as drunken driving, and its toll is comparable as well.

“It really is becoming an epidemic,” she said.

The challenge is driving the point home to young drivers, who are most likely to be hurt when driving and texting mix.

“There’s a stigma out there, that young people know all the risks, they know all the dangers, and yet they do it,” said Wheaton resident Timothy Ziman, vice president of the Student Leadership Council at COD, one of the organizations that helped put on the event. “The message we want to get across is that it’s not cool.”

Some young drivers appear to get it. When Eric Schad took part in a simulation on a course set up in the Student Services Lounge, it took him 30 seconds from start to finish. Covering the same path while sending a couple of requested pieces of information over his iPhone 5, it took the Lombard resident 52 seconds — and he blew a stop sign set up along the course.

Schad, 20, appreciates the danger, but it hasn’t caused him to put away his phone entirely when he climbs into the driver’s seat — at least not yet.

“At stoplights I do (text),” he said, admitting that he’s had a close call or two. “I try to do it while the car’s not moving. That’s what causes people to get into accidents.”

Even when there isn’t a crash, it often causes them to lose money. Illinois is one of 39 states that prohibit drivers from text messaging. More than 2,600 drivers in the state have been ticketed and fined for violating the law since it went into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

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