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Third-grader Pushes Extreme Message

By Stephen Chupaska

Publication: The Times

Published March 03. 2011 4:00AM
Nina Pezzello is asking drivers to sign a pledge not to text behind the wheel

For the past month, Nina Pezzello, a third-grader at Oswegatchie Elementary School, has been spreading a simple message: If you're driving a car, don't send or read text messages.

Nina has been behind her table at Waterford High basketball games and swim meets, asking both new and experienced drivers to sign her pledge to not text while behind the wheel.

"I want to help save lives," Nina said.

Thus far, 158 people have signed up to take the pledge, though Nina hopes to get more than 5,000 signatures, and plans to be at Crystal Mall on March 5 during the mall's Prom Fest event.

Nina said, "I'm going to tell people to read it over and make the commitment, not just sign it because I'm asking them to. Sign it because you mean it, not because I'm cute!"

Nina's passion to stop people from texting and driving arose from the story of Alex Brown, a 17-year-old from West Texas who died in November 2009 after she flipped her pickup truck while texting.

Nina became captivated with Alex Brown after the Texas family was the subject of an episode of the reality-television program "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which aired in January. According to Nina, Brown had a younger sister who was most affected by the death and does not want the same thing to happen to any of her sisters who all signed the pledges.

"I didn't want to feel that way if my sister dies or anyone else's sister dies," said Nina.

Debi Pezzello, Nina's mother, said the show ran an announcement about the Alex Brown Foundation, a charity that raises awareness about the dangers of texting while driving.

"Nina saw that and said she wanted to help," Pezzello said.

Cracking down on texting and driving has also been a point of emphasis for the Waterford Police Department in the past year.

Since February 2010, police have issued 444 tickets or warnings for driving while using a cell phone, including 21 citations in January.

According to a 2009 Pew Research poll, 64 percent of 16- and 17-year-olds have been in a car while the driver was texting.

The poll also noted that 26 percent of older teenagers admitted to have texted while driving.

Even Pezzello said that before Nina's campaign, she's heard her cell phone beep or vibrate and succumbed to the temptation of texting while behind the wheel.

"I'm guilty of it, too," Pezzello said.

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