A 17-year-old girl, let’s call her Jenny, drives down Poplar Avenue on her way to meet a friend at the mall. Her phone beeps, alerting her to a new text message. She reaches into her purse, pulls out her phone, and reads it with a smile. As two lanes of cars stream past, she texts her response; now her all-important message is on its way and she can focus again on the road. Until the next beep arrives. “Insurance companies are seeing that girls are taking more risks with texting and stuff that involves distractions,” notes driving instructor Max Maxwell. Jenny texts to stay in touch with her social network. But teens, with only one or two years behind the wheel, are inexperienced drivers. They can’t yet anticipate traffic and road conditions. Add a distraction like texting to the mix — and accidents can happen.
Consider this: You must take your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds to send or read a text message. That’s equivalent to driving the length of a football field at 55 m.p.h. — blindfolded. In the meantime, traffic lights change, drivers switch lanes. Sound risky? Just ask a police officer, a judge, or a grieving parent. Teens think they can defy the odds. Think again.
Texting Distracts From Driving
One quarter of U.S. teens ages 16 to 17 who have cellphones say they text while driving, and almost half of Americans ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been in cars with someone who texted while behind the wheel. Parents are texting, too, claim teens; this according to findings released in 2009 by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. In fact, 11 percent of all drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.
Texting and driving is the riskiest of all distracted driving behaviors (such as eating, adjusting your radio, talking on your cell). That’s because texting requires visual, manual, and cognitive attention. If you do it while behind the wheel, you’re at a much greater risk of winding up in an accident. Experts equate texting while driving to driving while drunk.
Learning A Lesson the Hard Way
Max Maxwell, who owns Maxwell Driving School, likes to help teens understand what that impairment can mean. “I teach students that there are consequences to decisions,” he says. During his course, Maxwell takes students on a field trip to the Memphis Funeral Home. There, funeral director Mark Ballard enlightens them on the pain families endure when they lose a loved one to a car accident. For Ballard, the implications of texting while driving are personal. Last summer, his own 18-year-old son, Joshua, narrowly missed becoming a statistic. The teen drove out one night with plans to meet up with a girlfriend. Once behind the wheel, he began texting and looked up, too late. The teen caused a four-car pileup at the intersection of Macon and Sycamore View. Three other drivers were involved, including a woman who was seven months pregnant. Fortunately, no one was critically injured. But Joshua’s new car, as well as another driver’s van, was totaled.
His accident was not unusual. In fact, 16 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under 20. “My son was so sick that he was about to vomit,” says Ballard, remembering the incident. “He has a good heart and a good spirit. Now Joshua is so scared that he drives only to and from work. He asks other people to drive if he is going someplace with someone. He rides the bus to school.”
Begin The Conversation
Texting cost Joshua plenty. He went to court and paid a $50 fine, then was required to attend driving school. At home, he lost phone privileges, he was grounded for three weeks, and had to pay his insurance deductible. Finally, he knows if he should get another traffic ticket, he faces losing his license for one year — or longer. That’s a heavy price to pay for sending a text message. Now that you know, take “No texting while driving” to heart. Change your habits behind the wheel, and talk with your teen this month about the importance of developing safe driving habits. It is his life — and those around him — that are on the line.
Set the Ground Rules.
Research shows that when parents set rules and monitor driving behavior, a teen’s crash risk is cut in half. What’s more, these teens are 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone while driving. If your teen is on the road, tell him the phone should be turned off. Remind him that driving is a privilege, not a right.
Draft and Sign a Parent-Teen Driving Agreement.
You’ll find an agreement sample at cdc.gov/parentsarethekey. If your kid can’t handle the responsibility, take away driving privileges or disable the texting capabilities on his phone.
Pay Attention To Your Own Behavior.
“Kids are watching you,” notes Maxwell. “If you drive with one hand on the wheel or speed, they’ll do the same thing.” Break the toxic spell of technology while driving and put your cell phone in the glove compartment.
Consider Using Technology.
Add AT&T’s DriveMode or Life Before Text app to your teen’s phone. When the DriveMode app is turned on, all notification sounds for incoming texts, emails, and phone calls are silenced. An auto reply message says your teen is driving. The app also prevents sending of text messages and emails. For Android smartphones, the Life Before Text App blocks calls and texts to phones inside moving vehicles. An email alert notifies a designated recipient when the app is disabled. MobileTEENgps monitors your teens driving and sends parents alerts on driving speed and location. And at drivercam.com, you’ll find various cameras that can be installed in your car.
Make a Pledge To Never Text and Drive.
Teens can visit itcanwait.com and make a pledge. Tennessee’s Governors Highway Safety Office formed a partnership with AT&T and developed itcanwait.com. Make a family pledge and commit to distraction-free driving together. You’ll find a pledge form at distraction.gov.
Help Your Teen Be a Safe Driver
At teendriversource.org, information on driving for teens, from beginners to graduates.
At tntrafficsafety.org, learn more about the Tennessee Teen Drivers Safety Coalition and Graduated Drivers Licensing program. At distraction.gov, read information about the results of distracted driving, compiled by U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
Know Tennessee Law • It is illegal to text while driving. Fine: $50.
• It is illegal for teens under age 18 with a graduated driver’s license to use a cell phone while driving. Fine: $50. The driver will be ineligible to apply for an intermediate or unrestricted driver license for an additional 90 days from the time he would otherwise be eligible.
Stop the Texts - Stop the Wrecks Watch for the new public service announcements featuring the cast from the popular TV drama, GLEE. The PSAs are part of a national “Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks.” ad campaign.