Students have the opportunity to win prizes on the local and state levels in a contest announced this week.

The Houston Herald is among newspapers in the state participating in a statewide contest to bring awareness to the dangers of texting and driving.

The Missouri Press Association, local newspapers and AT&T will sponsor and challenge Missouri middle school and high school students across the state to write an editorial or opinion column highlighting the dangers of texting while driving and encouraging their peers to take the “It Can Wait pledge.”

The piece will answer the questions, “Why is it important to take the It Can Wait pledge to never text and drive?” The piece will highlight the dangers of texting while driving. It must include the following call to action, “Take the pledge to never text and drive at ItCanWait.com.”

The contest begins on Friday, “National Drive 4 Pledges Day.” It ends on Oct. 19 at the local level. Local newspapers will select a winner for each of the middle and high school categories, and the essay will be printed in the newspaper. To enter drop it by the newspaper or mail it to Houston Herald, P.O. Box 170, Houston, Mo. 65483. Those winners advance to the state level. The top local winner receives a $50 iTunes gift card.

Top prize is $500, a tour of the Missouri School of Journalism and the Missouri Press Association office and a dinner for students and their parents with the leadership of AT&T, the Missouri Press Association and their local newspaper publisher. Winners will be announced Nov. 1. 

•More than 100,000 crashes involve drivers who are texting, often causing life-changing injuries and deaths.

•Texting drivers are far more likely to be in an accident. Despite knowing the risks of texting while driving, 43 percent of teens admit to texting while driving.

•However, there is an opportunity to change this behavior. Ninety percent of teen drivers say they would stop if a friend in the car asked them and 78 percent say that they are likely not to text and drive tell them it is wrong.

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