The buzz term “distracted driving” has taken up a lot of print in the past few years as more and more traffic accidents each year are blamed on this dangerous phenomenon. While drinking and driving is still seen as the most dangerous (and fatal) of problems on the road, when looking at young drivers especially, the incidents of distracted driving are on a steep incline. One recent study by CQ Researcher found that 5,000 people each year were killed in accidents that involved distracted driving. What’s more the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has put the number of teen crashes caused by distracted driving as high as 16%. The Teen and the Phone Distracted driving is a broad term that can be used to refer to actions such as tuning the radio, talking to passengers in the back seat, and reading a newspaper. However, the most popular distracted driving event, and one that has been on the rise more and more among teens, is the use of a cellular telephone while behind the wheel – most specifically, talking on the phone and texting while driving. Teens these days do not remember a time when cell phones were not an essential aspect of everyday life. For these teens, getting their own cell phones are major events. They use their phones as lifelines and social tools far beyond what most adults, even those of us with jobs that rely on smartphone access, can ever imagine. These teens see their phone and the “instant gratification” that responding to a call or text can provide as essential elements in their social life. Putting the phone down or (heaven forbid!) turning it off for the duration of a car trip is hard. Though the warnings and PSAs about the dangers of talking and texting while driving abound, these teens, hyped up on adolescent fearlessness, don’t think that the rules apply to them. Many times, because they have successfully talked or texted while driving before, they feel that they can do so again. The Real Dangers of Distraction But research proves otherwise. A 2009 study by the NHTSA found that, on average, a texting driver takes his or her eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds per text. In a vehicle travelling 55 mph, that means not looking at the road for approximately 100 yards. But the problem doesn’t end there. When was the last time you saw a teen send only one text? Even talking on the phone while driving presents problems. When many of the first talking and driving bans surfaced in the early 2000s, many people ignored the warning citing that the same level of distraction resulted from talking to passengers while driving. However, further research into the phenomenon has shown that the cognitive effort that it takes to carry on a phone conversation is greater than one that is live. Yet, a 2011 Harris poll found that 59% of adults admit to talking on their phones while driving. Combine this figure with the increased attention that automobile companies are giving to technological devices, including phones, in vehicles and the mixed messages becomes all the more apparent. Whatever logical reasons we can all give against distracted driving, evidence shows that we still do it and so do our children. Moving Forward Drunk driving is still the number one cause of automobile deaths in this country. Getting the message out about the dangers of drinking and driving still needs to be an essential element of our school-based driving curriculums and counseling sessions. However a continued and increased focus on distracted driving clearly needs to be included as well. In addition, parents especially need to be wary of the models that they portray for their children. The fact that adults admit to texting and driving at a rate of 39% according to Harris means that there is still a huge discord between what we know we shouldn’t do and what we actually do each day.
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