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Article updated: 11/15/2012 5:44 PM

Lt. Gov. Simon urges Harper students to not text while driving

By Kimberly Pohl

They're seemingly innocuous text messages, but "lol," "yeah" and "where u at" are just a few of phrases that have led distracted drivers to cause fatal car wrecks.

Some Harper College students are the latest to say the texts aren't worth risking a life.

The Palatine campus Thursday hosted Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, state Rep. Tom Morrison and others to promote AT&T Illinois' "It Can Wait" campaign to urge students to consider the dangers of texting while driving.

"Texting is how we work, but we have to be the ones to decide that no message is worth injuring our kids, their friends and other people out on the road," Simon said.

After the program, many students elected to sign an online pledge promising never to text and drive again at itcanwait.com.

The sobering statistics and stories of loss quieted Harper's typically bustling Student Center Lounge. Those in attendance heard that more than 840 people have died on Illinois roads in 2012 so far, surpassing last year's total. And according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash.

Though not a texter himself, Harper President Ken Ender held up his black smartphone and admitted to making and taking plenty of phone calls while behind the wheel, a practice he pledged to stop.

"This is the best thing in my life and it's the worst thing in my life," Ender said of the mobile device. "It can save my life and it can kill me."

Simon has taken part in similar programs at John A. Logan College and Parkland College, community colleges in downstate Carterville and Champaign. Other leaders including Oakton Community College President Margaret Lee are supporting the campaign, as well.

"We looked for a population of younger folks that drive a lot, and that's community colleges," Simon said.

Harper student Bridie Damisch, 19, of Palatine doesn't own a phone herself, but signed the online pledge to set an example for friends and family who do.

"They think it's OK to text if they're at a red light or something, but even that isn't lawful, it isn't safe and it isn't right," Damisch said.

Students were encouraged to explore using phone apps that remove the temptation to text and drive. AT&T DriveMode, for example, allows users to temporarily limit a phone's features and set up auto-replies so drivers can stay focused on the road.

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