With a few staff members having read all 55 entries in this year’s It Can Wait essay contest, published in Saturday’s News-Item, we can’t help but have gotten the message: Don’t text and drive, and avoid any type of distracted driving.

The annual contest promoted by the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association (PNA), the PNA Foundation and AT&T gives students statewide the opportunity to win cash prizes in their local competitions and, for some, compete at the state level.

But it’s obviously more than a writing contest. It’s a chance to drive home a valuable message for today’s youth: They r isk their lives and the lives of friends, family and innocent people when they text and drive.

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The personal opinions and national facts shared by the students cover a wide range of issues related to texting and driving, from ideas on how to avoid it (put your phone in the glove compartment or back seat, or use an app that tells others you’re driving), to firsthand accounts of near misses.

But several of the essay writers pointed out how they’ve used their involvement in the It Can Wait project to initiate conversations with their parents — and to remind them that they face the same dangers if they text or otherwise use their phones while driving.

In fact, a 2018 study by Liberty Mutual Insurance found that 37 percent of parents are using apps while driving compared to 38 percent of teens.

Among the complications revealed in the study is that, while parents are asking their teens not to text and drive, parents are still texting them and expecting a response. The study uncovered that the primary reasons teens are using their phones while driving or when they are stopped at red lights are to respond to (47 percent) or contact their parents (44 percent).

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As we reinforce the message of not texting and driving to our children and grandchildren, we need to reinforce it with ourselves, too. As Gene Beresin, Liberty Mutual consultant and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in response to some of the study results: “Parents are role models for their teen drivers, and when the parent is the ‘rule breaker’ they are setting a bad example. I encourage parents and teens to set and agree upon boundaries together to help keep everyone safe on the road.”

Or, as our student essay writers reminded us, simply, “It Can Wait.”

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