SALEM — Texting can wait.
That was the message of an assembly yesterday Salem High School devoted to the issue of texting while driving. Organized by Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and AT&T, the presentation urged students to focus on the road while they're behind the wheel.
"Today is a wake-up call for all of us," Blodgett said. "Your life and someone else's life may depend on it."
The most poignant moment of the program was a 10-minute video that highlighted the experiences of young people and parents who lost a loved one to texting while driving. It featured one boy who suffered life-changing injuries and another who shared his story of striking and killing a bicyclist.
"Hopefully, this video will go viral," state Rep. John Keenan said. Keenan supported the texting ban passed by the state Legislature but said yesterday that he is now in favor of a ban on all "handheld instruments."
Texting takes a driver's eyes off the road and his or her hands off the wheel, and it stops a driver from thinking about what they're doing, said David Mancuso of AT&T.
"It can change lives, and it can end lives," Principal David Angeramo told the 550 juniors and seniors who filled the auditorium.
Mayor Kim Driscoll pointed out that people who text while driving are 23 times more likely to get in a crash.
"It can wait," she said. "It's not just a lesson for you, it's a lesson for me. It's a lesson for all of us."
The lesson resonated with the students.
"It was a really powerful presentation," said Madison Holman, secretary of the senior class, who, along with her fellow class officers and the adult dignitaries in attendance, signed a pledge not to text and drive.
The video was "intense," Holman said. "I teared up a little bit."
"After watching that," she said, "you can really tell that it's no joke. Texting while driving can cost you your life."