KITTITAS—Mallori Allphin is about to get her driver's license. The 16-year-old Kittitas Secondary School junior has her learner's permit and is practicing with her parents close by in the passenger seat. Like most teens her age, she's excited. But Allphin also is nervous and is taking the new responsibility seriously.
"On average, 11 teens die each day because of distracted driving," Allphin said. "It could take out high schools all over the country."
That's just one fact Allphin learned last week during a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate on the first ever National Youth Distracted Driving Prevention Team created by the National Organization for Youth Safety. As part of the team, Allphin attended the national Distracted Driving Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation. She was one of 20 teens chosen from throughout the country.
Cell phones, iPods and other gadgets are the latest devices to blame for causing distractions on the road, though many other activities contribute to the problem. Eating while driving, talking to friends in the car, blasting the music, sleepy driving and emotional driving can be just as dangerous, Allphin said.
"I've seen many accidents just within the last few years in our county," Allphin said. "You always see it (distracted driving). They'll be like ‘Hey, will you hold the wheel for me?'"
At the summit, Allphin and the 19 other teens were introduced to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"He was absolutely amazing," Allphin said. "He really knows how to connect with teens. I was very privileged to be able to meet him because he's a major part of our country."
Participants climbed into a semi truck as part of the Teens and Trucks event to see a driver's blind spots. Their interviews aired on Fox News, CNN and the "Today Show" and the summit was broadcast on C-SPAN.
"That was a really cool experience," Allphin said about the media coverage.
The summit included comments from LaHood and experts on distracted driving. The teens learned about legislation, regulation, research and law enforcement. They also heard from families who are victims of distracted driving.
After the Distracted Driving Summit, the teens had their own summit to brainstorm ideas and create a national youth action plan. Allphin has brought their ideas back to Kittitas and is charged with implementing them in the community to help prevent distracted driving.
Not all of Allphin's peers are on board though.
"I'm not going to lie, I don't know if they approve or not," Allphin said. "They're like, ‘You're kidding right?'"
Allphin said she received a text from someone Sunday and she asked what the person was doing. Driving, the person replied.
"I really hope everyone will be in support of this project when I'm done," Allphin said.
Allphin said her family and consumer science teacher, FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) adviser and cheer coach Cheryl Uceny is a big reason why she was able to go to Washington, D.C. Uceny has known Allphin since she was a seventh-grader.
Allphin decided that her next FCCLA project would be distracted driving. The next day, Uceny had a message from NOYS looking for 20 teens to serve on a leadership team.
"It's huge for us to have someone on a national leadership team," Uceny said. "I'm excited that someone from such a small community could be selected for such a large job."
Uceny said this is another leadership role for Allphin. In terms of helping implement what Allphin learned, Uceny said she's up for the challenge.
"If we are creative in the ways that we get our message across, they will participate without even knowing they're participating," Uceny said.
She said it's important to personalize the message and not sound like you're preaching.
Uceny said distracted driving isn't discussed in any other coursework except for driver's education, so this helps supplement that.
Lonnie Allphin, Mallori's mom, is proud of her daughter. She said FCCLA was the foundation that gave Mallori the opportunity to be on the youth leadership team.
"We're a small community but this texting and driving has affected her peers directly," Lonnie said.
Lonnie said it was a big deal for Mallori "to be in D.C. and to be in the professional realm serving our community and nation."
"It's kind of been a whirlwind," Lonnie said.
She said the Kittitas School District has been supportive of Mallori's experience.
"We are so lucky."