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Seniors leave life-saving message
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Pictured, from left, Covenant Academy seniors Tyler Hillis, Randy Cantrell, Reonna Pennington and Erica Clay pose by their new sign Saturday. Not pictured are seniors Conner Wilson, Neal Patel, Katie Pack, Lily Kell and Newby Anderson.

The nine seniors graduating from Covenant Academy hope their gift will save lives. A double-sided sign was placed in front of the campus on Saturday. Put your phone down and drive is their message. The text can wait.

Joyce Smith teaches middle and high school language arts. She has taught a unit on distracted driving for four years where the students have written essays, done PowerPoint presentations, skits and taken tests over distracted driving and its consequences. Her intention was to put up a sign encouraging drivers to JUST DRIVE.

“When each year came to an end, we always ran out of time and had no funds for purchasing a sign. I was determined this year would be different,” said Smith. 

Last fall the group of nine seniors brainstormed ways to earn money. “They said that when they were in elementary school there used to be a healthy snack cart at Covenant Academy. As a class, we got permission to do a snack cart every Monday and Wednesday during their journalism class.”

The snacks consisted of crackers and cheese, popcorn, cheese sticks, fruit snacks, fruit juice and water. “We have to thank each student at Covenant who bought snacks at our cart. Without their purchases, this sign would not be a reality,” said Smith.

The permanent sign is placed in concrete with the hopes it will be a reminder for a long time that we should all keep our mind on driving. “This is one of those things that we will never know whether it helps someone. I did not want to wait any longer until we had a reason to do a sign in memory of a loved one. I feel at least nine people, my seniors, will remember this message,” said Smith.

Covenant salutatorian Tyler Hillis said, “I’ve seen tons of people on their phones and eating while driving and just driving crazy. Keep your eyes on the road, be aware of your surroundings, be safe and just drive.”

“I’ve seen women putting on makeup and people driving with their knees because they are using their hands for things other than driving,” said valedictorian Reonna Pennington. “I would advise others to drive responsibly and attentively.”

As of 2019, 47 states and Washington D.C. have banned texting while driving. Still, distracted driving accidents at the hands of technology continue to be an issue. 

According to slicktext website, 2019 research on texting habits shows people respond to text messages almost instantly. In fact, 9 out of 10 teens expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less. This encourages teens to respond to texts while driving.

Teens who text and drive spend 10% of their time driving outside their lane. Six percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. Eight percent of drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted. 

Teens whose parents drive distracted are as much as 2 to 4 times more likely to also drive distracted.

Said Covenant senior Randy Cantrell, “I’ve even seen a driver eating a bowl of cereal.”