Douglas, left, and Colleen Strong pose in their 100 Day Challenge T-shirts outside of Dutch Corner Restaurant, in Manchester, July 29. _- Original Credit: Becky Strong/submitted photo
Douglas, left, and Colleen Strong pose in their 100 Day Challenge T-shirts outside of Dutch Corner Restaurant, in Manchester, July 29. _- Original Credit: Becky Strong/submitted photo (HANDOUT)

This summer, teens and adults are accepting the challenge to drive safely by not drinking, texting or doing drugs while behind the wheel for 100 days.

Susan Rill, of Manchester, organized the 100 Day Challenge with high school seniors in mind, but the pledge has led other members of the community to make changes to their habits, as well.

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It is free to pledge to eliminate these distractions while driving, and participants receive a free T-shirt when they do.

Anyone interested can pledge and pick up a T-shirt at any of the three sponsors: Dutch Corner Restaurant, in Manchester, Shipley's Diamonds and Fine Jewelry, in Hampstead, and Catherine's Cause, a fund of the Carroll County Foundation in Westminster that advocates against drunk driving. People can also pledge at the Lineboro Farmers Market held at Share It Again Consignments, in Manchester, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Friday night until Sept. 18.

The 100 days begin when one takes the pledge, so people can do so at any time.

"The 100 days of summer are the most deadly for teenage drivers in the United States," said Rill, who also owns Dutch Corner.

It was hearing this statistic on the radio that inspired Rill to help make a difference in the community, so she reached out to Manchester Valley High School and North Carroll High School students, asking them to pledge to drive safely — without the distraction of drugs, alcohol or cell phones — for 100 days.

This is the time when teenagers have the most access to a car and the least amount of parental supervision, Rill said. Rill said she finds it "painful" when she looks over at a car full of teens and the driver has his or her face down, reading a text message, she said.

"I think texting and driving is [society's] biggest concern right now," Rill said.

She said she recently lost a friend who was hit while in his car by someone who had been texting and driving.

Although the challenge was created with teenagers in mind, Heather Abell, co-chair of the Lineboro Farmers Market, said adults also participate in unsafe activities behind the wheel. Abell said she pledged to complete the challenge because she wanted something to remind her to drive safely, and the challenge gave her the extra "push" that she needed to do that.

Abell, who helped hand out T-shirts and accept pledges at the farmers market, said that many parents pledged to the 100 Day Challenge along with their children to set a good example.

Many of the teenagers who pledged had just received their permits or licenses, which presented a perfect opportunity to teach them about the dangers of distracted driving , Abell said.

"It's a great conversation point with these kids because I don't think they always understand the full ramifications [of unsafe driving habits]," Abell said.

Some of the people who pledged already drive safely without the influence of alcohol and drugs and the distraction of texting. Steven Priester, Manchester Valley Class of 2015, said he will continue his safe driving habits and raise awareness by wearing his challenge T-shirt.

"I can't see a single way that the benefits outweigh the costs. It could cost a whole lot. It could cost your life — it could cost someone else's life," Priester said. "To do anything that could cost somebody their life is not worth it. That's just stupid."

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After 20-year-old Catherine Mullikin was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 1998, her parents Cindy and Phil Mullikin created Catherine's Cause to teach people the dangers of drunk driving.

When people get in their cars after having a few drinks, they never think that they will be the ones to swerve, to hit another car, to take a life, Mullikin said. Yet, drunk driving accidents keep happening.

"We're not asking people to give up drinking — we're just asking them to get a [designated] driver," she said.

Douglas Strong, a 2013 graduate of Manchester Valley, said he accepted the 100 Day Challenge and has since changed his driving habits to be safer on the road.

"I guess besides spreading the word, it's actually made me think twice about keeping my phone off," he said.

Although Strong is toward the end of his challenge, he said that even after he completes the 100 days of safe driving he plans to continue the positive habits he's adopted.

"I do take into consideration that it's not me that I have to worry about anymore — it's other drivers," Strong said of other people's driving habits.

Strong first heard about the challenge from his sister, Colleen Strong, a 2015 Manchester Valley graduate, who also pledged.

Colleen said she has had several friends who have been in car accidents because of texting and driving, but this challenge has made her more aware and reminds her to keep her phone in her purse.

"The cell phone thing is starting to become a problem in our society. They are using them way too much," said Todd Hicks, vice principal of Manchester Valley. "There's a whole big world out there and sometimes all you have to do is look up and sometimes they don't."

People's faces are so glued to their phones that they are losing out on human interaction and missing things, Hicks said. Specifically, things like oncoming traffic.

James Arnold, assistant principal of North Carroll High School, said teenagers of this decade are so accustomed to texting while driving that they no longer see doing so as an impairment similar to drinking or doing drugs.

"We have all these things against drinking, but we don't have anything for texting," Arnold said, referring to drunk driving simulations that show students what if feels like to be drunk.

This is what Cindy Mullikin finds so frustrating, she said. For years, media outlets have warned people about the dangers of drunk driving — yet people are still not listening, Mullikin said.

Other than the T-shirt, there is no material reward or prize for completing the challenge.

"It's not really a measurable thing. The only person who knows if they completed the challenge is themselves," Rill said.

Colleen said that simply completing the challenge and improving her driving safety is reward enough.

"Actually, I do believe there is a reward because it will probably save my life one day," she said.

The people who complete the challenge are making a difference, Rill said. When they wear their T-shirts, other people are made aware of the impact any one person can have on the road.

"It means that one life might be saved that shouldn't be lost," Rill said.

In a small town, where everybody knows everybody, a single loss splinters through the entire community, and it is devastating, Rill said.

"I don't know all the people who have been lost," Rill said, "but I know people who have been affected by that loss."

Mullikin said her heart goes out to other families who have lost family members and friends to drunk driving. It will take the families a while to get back on their feet, but they will never be the same again, Mullikin said. She and her husband are not the same people they once were — the loss of their daughter changed them, she said.

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The 100 Day Challenge has made Priester more aware of his friends too, he said. Now he makes sure they are making responsible decisions just like he is.

"I like the idea of causes that are working toward making healthy decisions," Priester said.

For more information, contact Susan Rill at the Dutch Corner Restaurant at 410-239-8100.

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