FAIRMONT - The Fairmont Area Junior/Senior High School student body turned out to cheer a basketball game Friday afternoon in the school's gym.
But the rivalry they watched wasn't against a competing school, it was against their teachers - and it had a twist.
The students playing could only use one hand. In the other they were required to hold a cell phone.
HELLO? — Carolyn Halverson, from left, Mat Mahoney and Joe Driano play a game of “texting basketball” Friday afternoon during a student assembly at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School promoting safe driving practices that exclude texting behind the wheel.
The exercise was the culmination of a week-long effort by the student council to bring awareness to the issue of texting and driving.
According to CTIA-the Wireless Association, a non-profit representing the wireless industry and AT&T, text messaging has experienced a tenfold increase in the past three years. On average, 16 teens die every day because of distracted driving. Those who text while driving are 23 times more likely to be involved in a critical accident.
Cyndi Johnson, co-adviser of the student council, suggested the week-long event because it is a hot topic in the news that affects students.
"Kids genuinely think it is easy to text and drive," she said.
The council put up posters showing statistics about the dangers of using cell phones while driving. Students were given information cards about distracted driving and watched a video about the dangers of texting while driving. They also were asked to sign a pledge card promising not to text while behind the wheel.
Johnson said many students are signing the pledge cards, but many are hesitant to make the commitment.
"If they aren't signing the pledge card, we are having great conversations about the temptations they have," she said. "That is all we can ask for."
In addition to the council activities, students participated in a lyceum given by school resource officer Jaime Bleess reviewing the laws regarding cell phones and driving.
In Minnesota, it is illegal for students on provisional drivers licenses to use a cell phone at all, including using a hands-free device or texting. For adults, only making calls is allowed - all texting and Internet usage is illegal.
"If we see a teenager talking on the phone," he said, "that is a valid reason to stop him."
The ticket, with taxes and fees, is almost always more than $100, he said.
Bleess said the police department institutes targeted enforcement from time to time, especially in the spring.
"In general, the teenagers out at the high school are doing really well," he said. "We don't had out a lot of tickets. Our teens are doing as good a job or better than our adults."
Bleess offers the following advice for teenagers to avoid the temptation of answering a text while driving:
o Turn off the cell phone when you get in the car.
o Place the phone out of reach, in the back seat or glove box.
o Have the passenger hold the phone and ask him or her to answer it if it rings.