CUMBERLAND – Students at the high school Tuesday were asked to put their lives first and not to even think about texting when they are driving.
The request came from R.I. Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, a former police officer, who is trying to warn students around the state about the sometimes fatal risks of texting when in a motor vehicle and getting them to pledge they will be safe.
Helping out with Kilmartin’s “Txtng & Drivin…It Can Wait” campaign were RI DOT Director Michael P. Lewis, Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee, Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais, and High School Principal Alan Tenreiro and Assistant Principal Brien Keller.
The program included the showing of a documentary film detailing the impacts of tragic texting and driving crashes on the families of those involved.
Participating students, including 320 members of the senior class, were also asked to sign a pledge that they will not text and drive.
Kilmartin backed a landmark state law in 2009 banning texting and driving in Rhode Island but told the students on Tuesday that it is still up to them to not engage in the life-threatening behavior.
“That is why we are all here for you today, to hopefully just make think about it yourselves," Kilmartin said to the quiet audience of students. “We can’t order you not to do it. We all have things in our lives that we have to do. We all do. I have to get up and go to work every morning, I actually have to work seven days a week. You have to get up and come to school. You have to hopefully graduate. I have to get up and walk my dog.”
“There are things in life we all have to do,” he continued. “But there are also a lot of things in life we can control. And one of the things you can control is wearing a seat belt, not drinking and driving and not texting while driving.”
The students can also take action and “tell someone who is texting and driving while you are in the car to stop,” the serious-faced lawman told the students. “It can wait. That’s the message here: no text is so important it can’t wait.”
Kilmartin recalled how he would always find a phone and call home when he was a teenager because he had not wanted a police officer going to his house and telling his parents something had happened to him.
“We are just here to hopefully get the message through that these are real-life situations that do happen, and did happen, and happen daily,” Kilmartin said. “It can wait, but you folks are the only ones who can control that.”
The attorney general said he knows many families in the Cumberland area and offered that he would rather see them celebrating their senior’s graduation and the fact they were “going on to whatever path that you choose,” than to instead join them in “grieving your passing because you texted while driving.’’
“It can happen to you and we hope you take that message with you,” Kilmartin said.
LaRiviere told the students he has been in law enforcement for 32 years, 23 years of that time as a State Trooper, and probably the most difficult thing he has had to do during that time was to tell a family that their teenager had died in a motor vehicle accident. LaRiviere even teaches a class for police recruits about making such a notification and said there really is no good way to tell someone they have lost their child to a motor vehicle crash.
“It is one of the most horrific things you can imagine. I have been beaten in the chest by mothers wanting their children back. It just can’t happen,” he said.
LaRiviere said he appreciates the chance to speak to any class of students about the dangers of texting and driving because members of law enforcement “know we can’t do it alone.”
“It is important for you to know there are fines out there and punishments for your actions but no fines or no punishments can touch the feeling you are going to get if you kill or severely hurt someone,” he said.
Students can choose to be leaders and take action to stop what LaRiviere described as the “madness on the highways” of texting and driving.
“I can write tickets, but I can tell you, only you folks can stop this madness on the highways. And I see it all the time, my troopers see it all the time and it is up to you guys to be able to do this,’ he said.
“So, as the attorney general said, it can wait,” LaRiviere concluded. “I wish you all the best in the future. I wish great health, but take the message with you.”
For more information on Kilmartin’s “It Can Wait” campaign, visit www.riag.ri.gov , or www.itcanwait.com