Generation tXt Goes To The Capitol
Oklahoma teens drive legislation to keep their peers safe
In 2015, many Oklahomans shared a sigh of relief as legislation finally passed, outlawing texting while driving in the state. An unlikely group of teenagers, all too familiar with the consequences of distracted driving, celebrated after the long-fought battle.
With the help of a grant given by State Farm, the non-profit group Generation tXt was formed in 2008 by a group of Booker T. Washington High School students and parents in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The group was concerned about the negative consequences texting and driving was having on their friends and families.
The original teens involved in the program understood car crashes are the number-one cause of death among their peers, and their friends were 23 times at greater risk of crash due to texting while driving.
Carol Bush, the executive director of Generation tXt, was one of the parents who had a teen preparing to drive. “We thought it would be helpful to get a group of like-minded teens together who could really have an impact on their peers,” Bush said.
Generation tXt was born.
The diverse group of students developed their own identity. They prepared logos, banners, social media content, and talking points they used to share their message to other students: not to text while driving.
The program spread to additional schools in the Tulsa area and the teens began to share their message with community groups and driving schools. They were having a positive impact in Oklahoma and, as a result, many of their peers were putting down the phone.
Then something unusual happened. Generation tXt Coordinator Christy Blystone explains. “The teens in the group kept pushing to have a bigger impact. One day we were talking about the fact Oklahoma was one of only five states without a texting and driving ban.”
The teens took that fact a little hard and began planning their next mountain to climb – a trip to the Oklahoma Capitol to advocate for a new law.
The Generation tXt students, parents, and sponsors all piled into cars for the trip to Oklahoma City, a trip they would make many times over the years.
“We literally knocked on the doors of our senators and representatives, talking with anyone who would listen about the dangers of texting and driving,” said then-student Juliann Thomison. “We knew we had to be brief and convince them they could play a part in saving the lives of Oklahomans.”
For four years the students made the trip to the Capitol, pushing, pleading, prodding and hoping for success. And for four years, texting and driving legislation stalled out and died. Several of the Generation tXt students graduated, but there were always new students to take up the quest.
Finally in 2015, their consistent work and visits began to pay off.
State Representative Terry O’Donnell noticed the students in the Capitol and was impressed by the way they lobbied his fellow legislators. “The Governor challenged our legislature to send her a bill that would protect people by banning texting and driving,” O’Donnell said. “Bills have a way of dying off from lack of momentum but they (Generation tXt) would not let that die.”
Sensing victory in the air, a coalition of supporters, including Generation tXt, pushed hard and made sure Oklahoma House Bill 1965 gained enough traction to finally garner the votes needed.
The students were present in the gallery when the final vote was taken. A cheer went up as the gavel cracked and the bill was passed. Thanks to hard work and the commitment of Generation tXt, Oklahoma became the 46th state to ban driver texting.
“Without their help and support, I don’t think we would have gotten it passed at all,” Representative O’Donnell confirmed.
Many would think this is the end of the story, but Generation tXt continues to teach and advocate for stronger laws, prepared to accept the next challenge to keep Oklahomans safe.