On the 11th day of every month, 11 juniors (11th graders) at Mount View High School will wear shirts with the number 11 on the front.

The Thorndike high school is participating in Program 11 — an anti-texting while driving initiative aimed at central Maine high school students. The effort was launched Thursday by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. Capt. Dennis Picard said the program’s aim is to show that on average 11 teens die every day while texting and driving in the U.S.

While the Kennebec County department styled its program on reports, including the Insurance Institute for Highway Fatality Facts, suggesting 11 teens die daily because of texting and driving, other studies show different results. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in 2011 more than nine people — of all ages — were killed and more than 1,060 injured per day in crashes traced to all types of distracted driving.

When asked about the contradiction in statistics, Picard provided a half dozen links from different organizations, all using the same language.

He said he’d like nothing more than to call the program “Point Seven” instead of “11” next year in the hope that the campaign will help reduce the number of deaths.

It can be hard sometimes to get students to see beyond their own personal circle, said Mount View School Resource Officer Nick Oettinger. But Program 11 could be a way to overcome that challenge, he said, if it succeeds in sparking personal conversations about the dangers.

He said the more teenagers have conversations about the frequency of texting and driving accidents, the more they will learn about the ways people in their life have been directly affected by the accidents and the more they will feel connected to the issue.

“When people realize someone close to them has been affected, the message seems more important,” he said.

Oettinger said one of the worst experiences of his career was having to notify parents of the death of their child, and it is important to him to let students know about the dangers of texting and driving to prevent more teenage deaths.

While only Gardiner and Mount View are participating in the initial launch, Picard said the department hopes to spread the program to all Kennebec County high schools. The program is free to participating schools and is paid for by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

To help recruit for the program, students will be awarded community service hours for wearing the Program 11 T-shirts, which have an 11 on the front and a QR code on the back that can be scanned using a cellphone app. Picard said students can scan the code with their phone and pull up statistics on texting and driving dangers.

“They are going to use their cellphones — the very tool that could cause them death — and it’s going to show them that on average 11 American kids are killed every day texting while driving, and it will pass on a message of safety,” Picard said.

Mount View students are required to have 15 community service hours to graduate.

“Some of the students that signed up already have their hours and just wanted to be a part of the program,” he said.

Mount View students Seth Davis and Meredith Picard, both wearing the Program 11 shirts, said Thursday that they had seen shocking videos and photos in public service announcements about the dangers of texting while driving and don’t feel tempted to text while they drive.

“My dad has shown me the YouTube videos,” said Meredith Picard, daughter of the sheriff’s office captain.

Davis said he participated in a Maine Criminal Justice Academy program this summer and said academy officials also told him about the risks associated with distracted driving.

“It’s not something that’s worth it,” he said.

In a press release about the program, Picard cited National Safety Council statistics saying that texting while driving causes 1,600,000 accidents per year in the U.S. and a Harvard Center for Risk Analysis study saying it causes 330,000 injuries per year.

“It’s one of those issues that we see constantly in our personally owned vehicles, but when we are in our cruisers, people are more on guard,” said Picard.

The CDC study also found that drivers under the age of 20 appeared to be at the highest risk for cellphone-related fatal accidents.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

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