Stay up to date with Current Events from WebLessons, updated every Monday morning. Click Here to view the archive of past articles.
Many teens covet a driver’s license with a white-hot passion. A license to drive and the keys to a car opens the (car) door to greater independence. Finally! You can do what you want and get where you want to go with your friends. Earning a license is a highlight of the teen years. However, driving is not a leisure activity. The weight and speed of a car makes accidents potentially lethal. Car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers.
Driving may seem easy—turn key, shift gear, push pedal, rotate wheel—but drivers continually process visual information: how far the car is ahead of you, the distance between your car and the pedestrian crossing the street, how far the biker is from the white line, the speed and consistency of traffic, the angle of the curve in the road, street signs, stop lights, and directional signs. In exchange for a license, you agree to abide by driving laws, to remain alert while driving, and to make safe driving decisions. Your safety, as well as the safety of people in your car, in other cars, on bikes, and on foot, depends on it.
Imagine you are driving down the highway. If someone asked you to close your eyes for 5 seconds while you were driving, would you do it? What about for 2 seconds? Would you try? Probably not. Your vision is your primary source of information while you are driving. Closing your eyes would prevent you from monitoring the road. In five seconds at 60 mph, you travel approximately five blocks. Even on a straight stretch of open highway, it is essential to constantly receive information about road conditions and how other cars are moving in order to allow yourself time to react safely and appropriately.
Closing your eyes while you are driving seems laughable. LOL! Of course you would not do that. Yet, that is essentially what happens when drivers text or read texts. Your eyes cannot read and be on the road simultaneously. Your brain cannot process texts and complex information about road conditions at the same time. As cell phone use increases and texting becomes more common, the dangers associated with distracted driving become more pervasive and officials search for ways to educate drivers and to discourage distracted driving.
To combat texting and driving, state legislatures across the country are adding laws that make it illegal to text and drive. In 2010, a new law took effect in Massachusetts that made it a criminal offence to text and drive negligently and cause injury. On June 6, 2012, Aaron Deveau became one of the first to be convicted under that law. Prosecutors claim Deveau was texting while driving when he crossed the center line. The head-on accident that followed killed the driver of the car he hit and seriously injured the passenger. He was found guilty of vehicular homicide and negligent operation while texting. Deveau, who is now 18, will serve one year in jail, complete 40 hours of community service, and relinquish his driver’s license for 15 years.
Habitual texters claim they can drive well with one hand on the wheel, can multi-task safely, and do not compromise safety. Are they correct? What are the facts about texting and driving? This week, you will examine the growing phenomena of distracted driving through a slideshow, videos, and statistics. Along the way, keep a double-entry journal in which you record the passages that seem most significant and your response to each.
Distracted driving is defined as anything that takes the driver’s eyes or mind off the road, or her hands off the wheel. Brainstorm a list of five things—activities or objects—that distract drivers. The goal for drivers is to minimize the number and severity of these distractions. Exactly how distracted are you? Rate your risk; take the safe driving quiz sponsored by the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety. Where on the driver spectrum do you fall? What distracts you most often? What two changes can you make to be more focused?
What do you think of texting while driving? If you believe it is safe, 17-year-old Chelsie agrees with you. She appeared on the Dr. Phil Show about texting and driving. Watch five excerpts of the show: meet Chelsie (:38-9:00), watch Chelsie’s simulate driving while texting (10:54-12:46), hear Dr. Phil’s messages to Chelsie and her mother (15:00-16:30), meet a teen who killed a cyclist because he was texting and driving (17:47-23:49), and see what Chelsie’s mother decides to do (26:00-2802).
Recent studies have examined how distractions affect driving safety. Alertdriver.com helps educate distracted drivers about these findings. Watch the Alert Driver slideshow. Pay particular attention to slides 5-19. When you have finished, summarize: What new technique did researchers use and why was it more accurate? What tasks are most distracting and why? Who is most likely to be involved in an accident caused by distracted driving? How long is too long to have your attention off the road?
There is an official U.S. government site dedicated to the issue of distracted driving. Make D!straction.gov the next stop on your trip. How much is your brain activity reduced when you drive and use a cell phone? Is it safer to use hand-held or headset cell phones while driving? Find the answers, and read other facts and statistics about distracted driving.
Regulations about driving passenger cars fall within the states’ purview so laws and punishments for cell phone use and texting while driving vary from state-to-state. Find out what the laws are in your state. When you cross into another state, that state’s laws take effect. Examine the laws for the states that share a border with your home state. How do those laws compare to those in your home state?
The Last Text
Patrick, the young man who appeared on the Dr. Phil Show, is but one person whose life was affected by distracted driving. Unfortunately, he is not alone. Return to D!istraction.gov and meet others whose lives were forever changed. Watch the stories of Jacy Good (NY), Alex Brown (TX), Casey Feldman (PA), Eric Okerblom (CA) and Erica Forney (CO). After Erica Forney’s mother finishes her story, a selection of video clips will appear. Look for AT&T Don’t Text While Driving Documentary and watch it.
Each story shared how distracted driving has affected people: drivers, cyclists, pedestrians, passengers, teens, parents, friends. Taking your eyes off the road to glance at a text message may seem like no big deal. Not so. The fatal consequences of texting devastate families and communities. Perhaps you would like to take the pledge to drive phone and text-free.