WINNING ESSAY: This column from Platte County High School student Nicklaus Bartelli won first place in The Citizen’s “It Can Wait” contest.

WINNING ESSAY This column from Platte County High School student Nicklaus Bartelli won first place in The Citizen’s “It Can Wait” contest. Bartelli wins $100 and is entered in a state-wide contest in which he could earn $500 and other prizes. Congratulations.

Nicklaus Bartelli Special Commentary

All drivers on the road should be aware of their surroundings and, most importantly, other cars. What some people cannot prepare for on the road, however, is what the drivers in the surrounding cars are looking at or what they are not. Distraction from watching the road because of texting while driving is the cause of 1.6 million crashes per year, the National Safety Council reports. The message should be spread to teens and adults across the nation that the benefits of texting while driving do not outweigh the dangers. If the issue was made known to everyone and they took the pledge that “It Can Wait,” then all drivers could feel safer on the roads. Many people think that it is okay to text while driving, as 800,000 drivers do at any given time across the country. I had a Missouri high school friend tell me: “As long as you get good at it, there’s no difference” in using a cell phone or not. Actually, reports texting while driving slows down a driver’s brake reaction speed by 18-percent and makes you 23 times more likely to crash. Such astounding numbers should make anyone run from the act. Unimaginably, almost half of all drivers have texted while driving and when they do so, they drive football field lengths at a time looking down into their laps. I don’t know about you, but when I look to the car next to me and frequently see driver’s heads in their laps, I make sure I get a football field away from them. Many drivers will admit to ending up in different lanes when diverting back to the wheel. The gut-wrenching part is that while drivers who commit the act are putting themselves at risk, they are putting innocent citizens around them at risk as well. No matter how hard you try to be a safe driver, the chance of you still ending up with the consequences does remain. Lives are put to an end because of a simple choice of one individual, not an act of violence, so it makes sense that it would be easier to put a stop to it. John. F Kennedy’s words still ring to Americans that one should “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Apply this to daily acts like texting and driving and turn those statistics around to benefit our country. It is important to wait on grabbing the cell phone immediately after the buzz and focus on the road. If the message is so important that it must be answered, there are easy alternatives to ending lives, such as exiting the roadway and parking in a parking lot to respond. Electronic distraction is an issue that affects all drivers and has been put on the back-burner of legislation, especially in Missouri. Only drivers under 21 years of age are prohibited from using hand-held electronics while driving, implying that it isn’t a problem for adults, when really there is no difference. In fact, it is more important for adults to refrain from electronics behind the wheel because teens learn from them. Through my government class, I have been advocating to representatives in our government that the law should be changed and you may be pleased to know a revision goes on the agenda in January, despite a disregard of multiple previous bills. The lack of a push for education and legislation is accumulating deaths. Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd urges Americans that “We need to put the same sort of resources into stopping texting while driving that we are using to stop drunk driving and encourage seat belt use.” The results are often the same and worse for texting as these other bad driving habits. Be proactive and make the right choice to benefit your community. AT&T has started a campaign that texting behind the wheel can wait. I challenge you to go online and take the pledge to never text and drive at, like I have. By taking the pledge, you agree that you understand the risks that it puts on you and others and that you will educate others on the issue. The risk is already excessive for drivers as cars pass within inches of each other every minute of the day. Don’t add to it. It can wait.