Reece Sanders spends many hours on the road driving between his home in Deephaven and school in Minneapolis. Invariably he sees a lot of teens — and adults — texting behind the wheel.

That’s become a pet peeve of the 16-year-old, who last year was involved in a distracted driving fender bender himself. His scrape on Hwy. 7 changed his view on the problem, and now the Blake junior is on a mission to get other teens to put down their phones.

To get their attention, he arranged with the Minnetonka Police Department for an electronic sign that for two weeks in October flashed an anti-texting and driving message at the busy intersection of Hwys. 7 and 101.

“They don’t know how dangerous it is to keep a phone in your lap or hands,” he said. “You are in a 2- to 3-ton vehicle going 70 miles per hour and if you crash, it’s like hitting a brick wall. That could be a mom or a kid. That really hit home with me. Now I look over while driving and see kids texting while we are going down 394 and wonder, ‘Why are you fussing with your phone?’ I’m trying to keep two hands on the wheel.”

Sanders took on the sign project for a social studies assignment that challenged students to find an issue they were passionate about and to develop a plan to make a difference.

Drawing on his own experience and the body of research showing the dangers of texting and driving, Sanders chose to focus on distracted driving. He went straight to the Minnetonka Police Department with his idea of putting up a flashing sign, to remind the 38,500 motorists who pass through the area each day — including many Minnetonka High School students — that texting, even at a red lights, is illegal and unsafe.

“It’s nice to see a young kid take interest in distracted driving,” said officer Scott Marks, who coordinates the department’s sign placement. “It’s not often I get calls from teens to talk about traffic. I can count those calls on one or two fingers. I thought this was great. This is a big social issue and he is in the target audience for all the educational materials the DOT puts out. It’s taking effect and that’s kind of cool.”

‘Texting is like drunken driving’

Sanders said he once thought drinking and driving was the worst thing one could do behind the wheel. For him, texting is right up there.

“Nobody thinks they are doing any harm,” he said. “Texting is comparable to having four drinks or four beers and a lot of people can’t control their car after that amount of alcohol. Texting is like drunken driving.”

Using hands-free devices might not be any safer. Recent research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers can experience mental distractions for as long as 27 seconds after dialing their phone, using vehicle navigation systems, changing music or sending a text using voice commands.

“The reality is that mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green,” said AAA President and CEO Marshall Doney.

Sanders hopes the sign, which came down last week, had an impact.

“I can’t stop everybody, but if I tell my friend, maybe he won’t [text and drive],” Sanders said. “You want to be in the best hands when on the road. I think everybody wishes that for each other.”