Memorial Day may be the popular holiday that paves the way for summer, but it is also the start of the 100 deadliest days for teenage drivers. With the plethora of summer activities, graduation parties, summer jobs and vacations, teens spend more time on the road between Memorial Day and Labor Day than any other time of the year, as determined by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
More time on the road also creates a higher probability for accidents. Distracted driving, predominantly texting while driving, is now the leading cause of accidents and deaths among teenage drivers, replacing drunk driving. There were over 11,000 fatalities in 2011 due to distracted driving.
On the surface, all teens know that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 43% still admit to texting on the road. Even more discouraging is that 75% say their friends text and drive, according to an online survey of 1,200 teenagers by AT&T.
How do we reverse this disturbing trend? T-Mobile has tried implementing a “T-Mobile DriveSmart Plus” app, which uses GPS to detect when the user is driving, and will automatically send all incoming calls to voicemail and hold texts. Parents are alerted if a teen overrides the app. Similarly, AT&T developed the “DriveMode” app that sends automatic responses to incoming texts, alerting the sender that the user is driving. However, both apps are only available on certain phones and to the carrier’s subscribers.
Last month, DataLynk Communications Corporation released the latest version of its life saving application, NoTXTnDrive. Like T-Mobile and AT&T’s app solutions, NoTXTnDrive automatically activates when driving is detected and restricts the phone from receiving calls, texts and emails. Once the app detects that the user has stopped driving, it automatically deactivates and phone functions return to normal.
Another option that phone services are using to get the message across is driving simulators. One company gave students at Monsignor Edward Pace High School (in Miami Gardens, Fla.) a cellphone with a computerized simulator and placed them behind the wheel of a real car, offering a chance to see first-hand how quickly a text can put a life in danger.
AT&T also launched a campaign in 2010, called “Texting and Driving…It Can Wait,” introducing a 10-minute documentary called The Last Text, featuring stories of high school seniors who died before graduation day. The overall response was that seeing actual people with genuine stories can be very powerful. While the overall campaign is designed to educate all wireless users, teens are a primary focus because they are new and inexperienced drivers.
The scary fact is that technology will continue to evolve, likely having both positive and negative implications on the future of distracted driving. Perhaps one of the easiest solutions is for parents and educators to set a good example themselves and never drive distracted. However, it’s reassuring to know that steps are being made in the right direction.
Department of Transportation
The Miami Herald