Learning to drive isn’t easy. Learning to drive in the 21st Century with everything in our hands and in front of our faces vying for our attention over the road definitely isn’t easy. With the evolution of technology throwing notifications left and right, the challenge of remaining focused and alert while on the road is daunting.
Texting while driving, or distracted driving, has become a recent but serious problem facing many young drivers. Older generations also struggle with keeping their phones dark, silent and out of sight on the daily commute. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been driving for two years or 20 — taking your eyes away from the road ahead and giving your focus elsewhere is dangerous and often life-threatening.
So with technology growing ever more present and sentient, how are we as drivers meant to see past all the bright lights and shiny gizmos to actually just drive? What does safe driving really mean? How can we as a community agree to put an end to distracted driving?
While this might not have all the answers, here is a handbook to real safe driving in the 21st century. This is a guide to getting back to basics, to understand why and how distracted driving is so dangerous, what you can do about it, and how both older and younger drivers can provide a better, safer future together.
You Think You Know – But You Probably Don’t
Texting-while-driving has often been seen as the poster child for distracted driving, but that’s not the full story. What is the definition of distracted driving? According to the NHTSA, distracted driving classifies as “any activity that diverts attention from driving, including talking or texting on your phone, eating and drinking, talking to people in your vehicle, fiddling with the stereo, entertainment or navigation system—anything that takes your attention away from the task of safe driving.”
Basically, if you aren’t completely focused on driving, then you are driving distracted. And as these statistics show, that can be really, really dangerous:
- There is a 1 in 4 chance that any motor vehicle crash on US roadways is going to involve a cell phone. (Huffington Post)
- Every year, about 421,000 people are injured in crashes that have involved a driver who was distracted in some way. (Ice Bike)
- 19% of drivers in all age demographics admit to using their mobile data while they are driving, which includes surfing the internet (Do Something)
- Texting can make vehicle accidents 23 times more likely to happen.
- Texting can increase the risks of a severe crash by as much as 2300% for teen, young adult, and senior drivers. (WIRED)
If none of these statistics shock or surprise you, this one is by far the most startling: The average speed in the US is about 55 miles per hour. Taking five seconds to read a text means that the driver travels the length of a football field without looking at the road.
Unfortunately, this dangerous behavior doesn’t seem to be going away on its own. In New York 2017, the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research in Albany reported that the number of tickets given specifically for distracted driving are on the rise. According to Westchester County police, there was also an increase in texting tickets from 167 in 2015 to 480 in 2016.
Recent reports also show that simply knowing the dangers of distracted driving — not to mention the incredible fines you can receive — aren’t enough to stop people of all ages from looking away from the road to some menial task. The Stowe Reporter revealed that last year alone 60 people were ticketed for using their cellphones while driving in Stowe, VT. And for four of those people, this was their second offense within two years!
Clearly, it seems many drivers still believe those five seconds are worth the emoji. Even with a national ban on distracted driving currently under the Senate’s review, there is still a call for more effective restrictions against distracted driving. In 2017, car insurance companies answered the fever pitch.
Car Insurance Companies Ain’t Messing Around
According to The Zebra’s 2019 Distracted Driving Report, a violation for texting or otherwise using your phone while driving will raise your insurance premium 16% ($226 on average) – much higher in some states.
Teens alone could pay more than $6,500 per year for car insurance based on their inexperience driving, in conjunction with the historic track record of teenagers to make reckless decisions (like texting and driving).
This, combined with having an already-very-liable teenage driver on your policy, and your teen could pay $7,000 a year for car insurance.
Insurance companies take several factors into consideration when calculating your monthly premium – for all drivers on your policy. Several of these factors are automatically stacked against new drivers: your age, your marital status, your occupation, and your level of education, just to name a few.
So what can you, either as a concerned parent, or newbie driver, do to keep yourself and everyone around you safe? Well, just like within any other bad habit, the process to un-teach yourself begins with proper preparation.
How Serious is Your State about Distracted Driving?
The first step in fighting a potentially illegal reflex is knowing where you stand within the law. Here are some fast facts concerning the laws against texting and driving:
- Texting and driving is considered a misdemeanor by Alaska law and carries a maximum penalty for any state laws concerning distracted driving: $10,000 and one year in prison.
- Texting while driving laws in Missouri apply only to drivers ages 21 and under or those with a commercial driver license. Meaning, if you’re a school bus driver, new driver, you could face up to $200 in fines for texting and driving.
- If you’re under the age of 18 (a minor) in Ohio and get caught texting while driving, you could pay up to $150 and have your license suspended for six months.
- There is no statewide ban against using a cell phone behind the wheel in Texas. However, almost 100 cities have adopted local laws against texting and driving.
- Vermont had the highest rate of phone-distracted driving, on average using their phones for 7.4% of their total trip time. The second-worst state was Mississippi, at 6.9% of their trip time, followed by Louisiana at 6.4% and Alabama at 5.8%.
For more information on distracted driving/texting and driving laws, check out Aceable’s amazing article on the subject.
This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain While Texting and Driving.
So clearly, some states (like Alaska) take distracted driving pretty seriously, as well as their punishment for distracted drivers even moreso. But, you might say, we were all warned decades ago about another form of inhibited driving that time and time again proved to be statistically deadly as well: drunk driving. Shouldn’t we be more worried about avoiding drunk driving and drunk drivers in general?
Yes. And no. The most surprising thing about recent research into distracted driving? The two behaviors manifest quite similar in drivers behind the wheel. According to the NHTSA, distracted driving amounts to the same loss of reaction time, loss of focus, and loss of general awareness as consuming two beers.
We’ve all heard that “alcohol kills brain cells”, but what does that really mean? And why is it especially so dangerous for young people and teenagers? Simply put, there are two reasons: alcohol can directly affect the brain and during the teenage years, the brain is still trying to develop. So, too much alcohol during this developmental time isn’t a great idea. Alcohol can affect your:
- Blood vessels – affects blood flow and blood pressure
- Medulla – controls basic functions such as breathing and heart rate
- Neurons – nerve cells (i.e. VERY IMPORTANT) for muscle control
- Hippocampus – holds your memory
- Prefrontal cortex – makes up your reward system as well as impulse control
- Cerebellum – you know, that thing in your brain that controls all your motor functions.
Alcohol abuse can lead to major health problems — and can affect your ability to learn and function well. But kids know that already, right? It seems years of PSAs and parental threats have worked: studies also show that drunk driving accidents, arrests, and fatalities are decreasing, since 1982.
So then why are texting-while-driving rates on the rise, while drunk driving rates are going down, if they’re both just as dangerous? The simplest answer: because it only takes a second. But when you’re driving, a second can be a lifetime.
Making the Change Away from Distracted Driving
Obviously, the best way to stay safe is to simply keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel at all times. But since this is far from a perfect world, several organizations and companies have stepped forward to help ourselves when we could not.
Whether you’re passing down the family Buick, or looking to the new wave of safe (and smart) cars, to keep your family safe, 2017 seemed to be the year car manufacturers took responsibility for their immersive infotainment systems, as well as any surrounding distractions, and gave control back to the driver. If you’re looking to buy the safest car on the road, no matter the brand or make, check to see if the vehicle offers these incredible features:
- Dual-stage airbags provide cushion both at low-speed and high-speed impacts.
- Active cornering headlight system illuminates the sides of the road, as well as the road itself. Excellent for taking turns at night.
- Backup assist system alerts the driver to people and objects behind the car when it is in reverse using a rear automatic emergency braking (Rear AEB) system.
- Blind spot detection detects objects in the driver’s side and rear.
- Keyless entry system sends a signal by radio waves to the car, which locks or unlocks the door.
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication allows cars to “talk” to each other, providing each other with information, such as safety warnings and weather updates.
- Electric cars with “more energy dense batteries” allows EVs to go on long road trips as well as commute to work and do errands around town.
- Predictive forward collision gives the driver more information about the situation which is going on outside the viewing field. Some models allow for the car to stop itself in the event of an unseen object.
- Car Care apps tell you when your vehicle needs its next service and can even schedule it for you.
- Lane departure detection systems alert the driver when the vehicle begins to move out of its lane.
- Electronic stability control reduces the vehicle’s loss of traction and improves its stability.
- Re-engineered crumple zones reduce the damage from a collision by a controlled deformation, or crumpling. This is similar to recent developments in the helmets of professional football players to protect their brains.
- Parking assist alerts the driver to unseen obstacles and automatically calculates ideal steering angles during regular parking.
- Adaptive cruise control automatically adjusts the car’s speed to maintain a safe distance from objects ahead in the road.
One more thing about hands-free (i.e. voice command) texting: a 2017 study reveals that using such technology might actually be more likely to cause an auto accident than talking on a handheld cell phone. So, use that technology sparingly.
Also, be aware that while these new features might save a headache or two, car insurance companies have managed to insure that a premium-inspired headache could be around for a while.
Yes, there is a certain irony in relying on technology to keep us from using/abusing technology. However, many business organizations see this as an opportunity for all drivers to get back to basics and focus on what really matters when driving: getting to your destination safely. If you’re looking for a quick (but perhaps not long-term) solution, check out these apps that can be downloaded directly to an iPhone or Android.
- Cell Control
- AT&T’s Textalyzer
- Allstate’s Drivewise
- Sprint’s Drive First
- T-Mobile’s DriveSmart
- Verizon’s Driving Mode
- txt Blocker
Lastly, being safe means protecting the community. Sometimes, your driving instructor, or your mom, or even every article on the Internet won’t leave you feeling prepared to take on the road ahead. The good news is you’re not alone. The great news is that there are hundreds of organizations out there, filled to the brim with useful anti-texting-and-driving information, as well as basic driving tips, like how to deal with black ice.
We’ve provided some great resources below of these kinds of organizations, but they might not be for you. Do some research on your own and find an organization with a message that really speaks to you. Unless you believe in their cause, their anti-distracted-driving posts and community will just come across as preachy, and behavior won’t change.
So take our list with a grain of salt, and do what feels right for you.
- Impact Teen Drivers
- Drop It and Drive
- End Distracted Driving
- It Can Wait
- Stay Alive Just Drive
- People Against Distracted Driving
- Stop Texting AND Driving Distracted
- Texting Organization Against Distracted Driving, Inc.
End Distracted Driving: It Starts with You
We’ve thrown a lot at you. Statistics, numbers, new tech, old tech, websites to explore — it’s a lot. Now if you’re a parent reading this, you’ve got to be thinking, “this is great, but there’s no way my kid will listen to all of this!”
Being headstrong is basically rule number one in the Teenagers Code of Conduct, so we understand if you’re a little hesitant to share this with your own teen before they start out on the road. But at the end of the day, they want what you want: to be safe and smart. You both are coming from similar places, even if things get a little lost in translation to Teen Speak. Here are a couple of tips we found that put both you and your kid in a good mindset to talk about these big issues.
Parents.com says there are five main steps you can take to begin an active communication with your child AND make sure they walk away with your thoughts in mind:
- Get some perspective – kids just want to have fun, but they are driving a two-ton metal machine. Things can go wrong.
- Make your presence known – you are there as a resource, as well as a friend, confidant, and ultimate authority figure. They shouldn’t be scared to tell you if they nicked a bumper outside the grocery store.
- Avoid the echo – don’t repeat what they already know.
- Choose the message – if you’re frustrated with your child’s driving behavior, don’t bring up the time they also forgot to take out the trash. That will pretty much close every door to open communication.
- Listen to your child – “When kids feel cared about, understood, and respected by you, they’re a lot more likely to hear what you have to say.” This perhaps is why young drivers are more likely to listen to their parent’s driving rules, rather than the legal laws.
Teaching your young one to drive is a terrifying task for any parent. Back in the old days of driving, the instructor had a brake pad on their side of the car, in addition to the one being controlled by the student driver. Obviously, most family cars parked in the garage don’t have that luxury. But remember, your teen wants to learn. They want to do right by your teachings and instructions.
Most driving schools, at-home or otherwise, offer a basic course to follow: understand the rules of the road, understand the laws and most importantly, what not to do. That’s simplicity at its best, and most parents feel capable of doing this. However, if you don’t feel confident to pass along your skills, or simply don’t have the time, there is always a local driving school in your area. Plus, many online driving schools offer programs that are useful for both the driver and the parent instructor. Interestingly enough, much of the language used to teach driver’s ed is evolving so it might be beneficial to look into these changes before taking the car out for a practice drive.
However, every organization, every technological advantage, every speech in the world won’t matter unless your teen witnesses good, safe driving from you. If they see you texting while driving, you can be sure they’ll do it too. Monkey see monkey do, right?
So, to make sure everyone in the family practices excellent driving behavior, we recommend printing out this pledge and have everyone sign it. Make copies and put it on the fridge, in the garage — heck, on the back of every door in your house — someplace where everyone knows what’s expected of them while driving, and the consequences of what happens if they don’t.
Armed with this knowledge, we wish you the best of luck in all your future driving endeavors!
Here is a cool visual with all our reported distracted driving statistics.
Click here to download The Anti-Distracted Driving Pledge for you and your family.