As I drive around Clearwater and surrounding areas of Tampa Bay on my way to court or client meetings, I often see the aftermath of car accidents. They are usually minor fender benders, where someone has been rear-ended, and luckily often without major injuries. I see police officers talking with the drivers in the median and notice how young those drivers look; I check my watch and, sure enough, the final bell has recently rung at area high schools.
Newly licensed drivers on a beautiful spring day, with thoughts of graduation, exams, prom dates, and after-school jobs – it’s easy to see why their minds might not be focused completely on the road. Teen drivers may also be distracted by loud music, friends in the car, or trying to grab a quick bite while on their way home. Distracted driving is on the rise, and 46% of teen drivers say that they also send text messages while driving. Sending a text message is a huge contributor to distracted driving; it takes the driver’s attention off the road for almost 5 seconds, during which time a car going 55 mph can travel the length of a football field.
Most teens probably understand that texting while driving is dangerous, but feel that their youth makes them invincible. Not so, according to statistics compiled by Distraction.gov. Their study found that “10% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.”
The number of teenage drivers that admit to texting and driving is presently at an all-time high. In a recent survey, by Pediatrics Magazine, 44% of participating teenagers admit to texting and driving on at least one occasion during the month of April 2013. That percentage only reflects teenagers whom were willing to admit they text and drive. The numbers could be much higher. And experts believe that the actual number is well above 50%.
Texting and driving can be very dangerous. Many car accidents and fatalities are caused by texting and driving. In fact, drinking and driving is no longer the leading cause of death for teenagers. Texting and driving now kills more teenagers than anything else! Three thousand teens are dying from texting and driving related deaths every year. That is an alarming number.
Shockingly, the same survey revealed that teenagers that do engage in texting and driving are more likely to not wear their seat belt, to drink and drive, and to ride with someone else that they know has been drinking.
Driving a car requires visual, physical, and cognitive skills. The safe operation of a car requires all of those skills focused to the task of driving- looking at the road, hands on the wheel, and thinking about one’s surroundings. Text messaging while driving impairs all three simultaneously. The driver’s eyes are darting back and forth between the road and the phone. They only have one hand on the wheel. Also, their thoughts are likely more engaged by the textual conversation that they are having rather than on their surroundings. The likelihood, and reality, that texting and driving can cause property damage, personal injury, and even are death are dangerously obvious. A study done by AT&T, a major cell phone provider, reveals that each text message sent and received takes a driver’s attention from the road for an average of five seconds. Anything can happen in five seconds. If a person is driving 55 mph, five seconds is the span of time it would take them to drive the length of a football field.
So how can you prevent your teen from texting while driving and other distractions? First and foremost, set a good example. Model the behavior that you want them to emulate, by turning your cell phone off and the music down. If you must stop for fast-food, pull into a parking spot and take advantage of a few minutes to enjoy your food and your teen’s company. It will make your drive safer, and may be a valuable moment to show an interest in what’s going on in your child’s life.
Privileges and Expectations
As soon as your teen is ready for licensing and driving on their own, sit down with them and discuss what your expectations are in exchange for the privilege of driving. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics have developed a customizable contract for teen drivers, outlining what behavior is expected behind the wheel. It includes areas for setting down exact responsibilities, including how much the teen will contribute financially, what grades they are expected to maintain in school, and general rules about how many passengers are allowed and curfew hours. There are also areas where penalties for infractions can be tailored for your family’s expectations.
Encourage your teen to exercise self control, to simply ignore their phone or put it in the back seat while they are driving so they won’t be tempted to answer. One enterprising young man developed the Red Thumb Reminder project as a way to remind people not to use their cell phones while driving. Painting his thumbnail bright red was a hard-to-miss reminder to put the phone down, and it could be a simple method for teenagers. A ringing phone usually tempts anyone’s curiosity, so turning the ringer off while the car is moving can remove the temptation. Another option, available now on most cell phones, is the Do Not Disturb mode, which can be set so that only calls from a parent’s phone number will ring through during certain times.
If these reminders don’t do enough to stop your teen from texting while driving, there are also apps that can be installed to give you additional peace of mind. Drive First from Sprint, Textecution, and TeenSafer work by disabling cell phones in moving vehicles. DriveSafe.ly reads text messages and emails aloud so that the driver’s hands don’t have to touch the phone. Your teen may not be happy about having their driving habits monitored, but their safety – and that of other drivers – is more important.
Testing and driving isn’t just a problem with teenage drivers. Although it is worst among teenagers, it is a problem that is ever growing across all age groups of drivers. 48% of teenagers report having seen their parents engage in texting while driving. And 27% of adults admit to having texted while driving.
In 2011, 23% of all auto collisions involved cell phones. Text messaging makes the likelihood of an auto collision 23 times greater than when the driver is not text messaging. And the risk is growing: 77% of young adults say they are somewhat confident that they can safely drive while texting. This just isn’t true. Similarly, 55% of young drivers say that it is easy to text and drive. It is easy: easy to hurt yourself and others if you do it.
The message from these statistics is clear. Don’t text and drive. A number of major cell phone providers are teaming up to create a well-funded media campaign against texting and driving.
The Dolman Law Group is committed to raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, and fighting to obtain fair compensation for victims of vehicular accidents involving distracted drivers. We are experienced in investigating accident reports, including the determination of whether a phone was in use at the time of the collision. If you or your teen driver has been involved in a distracted driving accident, please contact us today at 727-451-6900 for a free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765