Oct 16-22 is National Teen Driver Safety Week, dedicated to raising awareness and seeking solutions to preventable teen deaths and injuries on the road. In the United States, teenagers drive less than all but the oldest people, but the numbers of crash deaths in 16-19 year olds is 3 times higher than the rate for those 20 years and older. One of the most common and dangerous distractions for teens behind the wheel are cell phones. For drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes, 19% of those distracted were distracted by the use of cell phones. According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 41.5% of teens self-report texting or emailing while driving in the past month.
There is a lot of research detailing how dangerous distracted driving can be. Some activities, such as texting, take the driver’s attention away from driving more frequently and for longer periods of time than other distractions. The minimal amount of time that your attention is taken away from the road while texting is 5 seconds, which means that if you are driving 55 miles per hour, you travel the length of a football field without looking at the road. That’s crazy. In a study of truckers (ie experienced drivers), Virginia Tech researchers reported a 23-fold increase in risk of a crash or near crash when drivers were text messaging.
Distracted driving laws help reduce this crash risk for teens. No state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, but 38 states (including Wisconsin) ban all cell phone use by novice drivers. Also, starting October 1, 2016, Wisconsin drivers will be required to use hands-free devices to talk on a cellphone when driving through areas where road construction, maintenance, or utility work is being done. Texting while driving is banned in 44 states (including Wisconsin).
As in pretty much everything in life, it’s important for adults to model good driving behavior. Nearly 50% of teens have seen their parents drive while talking on a cell phone; also nearly 50% of teens have been in a car when the driver was texting.
Seriously, people – put your phone down when driving! Your phone call/text message/social media post can wait.