Driving to Hang Up: MCHS students, 11 Alive pledge not to use cell phones and drive
By Ramsey Nix
Photos by Kathryn Schiliro
The 11 Alive news team traveled to Morgan County High School last Thursday morning to host The Great Hang Up pledge drive to combat distracted driving. The MCHS program was spearheaded by sophomore Alex Sorohan, whose brother, Caleb, was killed in a car accident last December. It is believed that he was texting while driving.
Working with his cameraman to prepare for the event, 11 Alive news reporter Marc Pickard explained why his news team had landed in the MCHS gym. “Our station management was greatly touched by this story. If we’re going to be responsible members of our community, we have to commit to not only reporting on problems but also offering possible solutions,” he said.
Reporter John Gerard (a.k.a. “Commuter Dude”) was also on hand. He explained that the Atlanta news station had covered too many accidents involving drivers using cell phones to ignore the dangerous trend any longer, hence the Great Hang Up drive, which asks motorists to pledge to stop using their cell phones while driving.
MCHS football coach Bill Malone kicked off the program by explaining the meaning of a pledge to the entire student body, before 2007 graduate Emily Holloway took the podium. Holloway recalled the car accident she caused during her senior year while she was talking on her cell phone to her sister. While they argued over directions to Wal-Mart, she absent-mindedly took a left turn into a no-turn lane, colliding with an 18-wheeler. “The last words my sister heard were, ‘Oh God,’” Holloway said.
Holloway sustained life-threatening injuries in the crash, but didn’t ask the audience for pity. Rather, she begged the students to avoid the same fate by staying off their cell phones while driving. “If you really have to talk on the cell phone, pull over. There is no conversation more valuable than your life,” she warned.
11 Alive news anchor Donna Lowry responded to Holloway’s testimony. “I can stand up here and tell you a lot but nothing could be more powerful than what Emily just told you,” she said.
Lowry read sobering statistics regarding texting while driving. According to Car and Driver magazine, reaction time while texting is three times worse than when legally drunk. Liberty Mutual Insurance Group reported that 21 percent of fatal accidents involving teens were the result of cell phone use, and that number increases by four percent per year. As a result, 50 teens are killed in this state every year because of cell phone use.
County school board member Dave Belton had compiled these statistics in time for the event. Belton has been lobbying for state laws against texting while driving for the last several weeks. Sitting front row in the gym, Belton estimated that he had spoken with over 35 legislators and attended four committee meetings regarding the issue.
“I really respect Morgan County for leading on this issue. Most states have some sort of law against texting while driving. In this sense, I believe Georgia is behind the curve,” Belton said.
Still, he is optimistic that state legislators will pass a bill this year. There are currently five bills circulating, and House Bill 23, the farthest along, calls for drivers 18-years-old and under be prohibited from using a cell phone while operating a vehicle. Bill co-signer, Senator Balfour of Gwinnett County, is now running for Linder’s Congressional seat, so Belton is urging his constituency to contact the senator regarding this bill.
But the most convincing lesson came from Alex Sorohan herself. Standing firm before her classmates and family, Sorohan remembered her brother. She explained what a smart, wonderful person he had been. “He had a great life ahead of him,” she said. “But he was a normal person who made a mistake. We’ve all made this mistake.”
Sorohan called on her classmates to avoid making the same mistake that took her brother’s life. She asked the student body to pledge to stay off the cell phone while driving.
After the program, students made their way to the cafeteria to sign the pledges. Junior Curtis Perriman said, “It was very educational and influential, because we do drive and we do have cell phones.”
Art teacher Ty Manning, who taught Caleb and now teaches his sister, was also struck by the power of the presentation. He’s been wearing a bracelet to remind him of Caleb, and the first time somebody texted him while he was driving, he saw the bracelet, and that stopped him from looking down at his phone.