St. Lawrence County working to reduce distracted driving among teens, adults
Saturday, October 13, 2012 - 4:38 pm

Teens seem to be getting the message, but more needs to be done about distracted driving in St. Lawrence County.

The St. Lawrence County Traffic Safety Program is joining with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), State Farm Insurance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the New York State Association of Traffic Safety Boards and other safety partners for National Teen Driver Safety Week, Oct. 14-20, to remind teens about the risks of the road and to think twice before driving distracted.

During the next year, the county’s traffic safety office will be offering programs on teen driving risks to local high school health and driver education classes and to interested parent groups.

“All drivers can be distracted by cell phones, adjusting the radio, using a navigation system, CD player, or MP3 device, but unfortunately, it is our most inexperienced drivers—teens—who are the most likely to put themselves and others in harms way by driving distracted,” said Mary Davison, Traffic Safety Information Specialist for St. Lawrence County.

Nearly 3,100 people were killed and an additional 416,000 were injured across the nation in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver during 2010. With more than 196 billion text messages sent and received just during June last year alone, plus numerous other activities that can take a driver’s attention from the road, distracted driving continues to plague all drivers, but particularly teen drivers, in St. Lawrence County and across the country.

Despite the fact that 32 states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation outlawing all cell phone use by novice drivers and 44 states have banned texting while driving by novice drivers, research shows that drivers under the age of 25 are two-to-three times more likely than older divers to send text messages or emails while driving. In 2010, 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported as being distracted at the time of the crash.

The Drive by the Rules, Keep the Privilege campaign was created to strongly remind teens of highway safety laws, to encourage safe driving practices, and to help inform parents and friends of ways they can help their teens be safer drivers. One survey by AT&T showed that 77 percent of teens had seen their parents texting behind the wheel.

“Friends and families should be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” said Davison. “It is important for parents to set a good example, to create and enforce driving rules with consequences at home, and to make sure not to add to the temptation by calling, texting or emailing when their teen might be on the road.”

Davison said that texting while driving takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds— at 55 miles per hour, the equivalent of driving blind for the length of an entire football field. Moreover, driving while using a cell phone may reduce the amount of brain activity associated with driving by up to 37 percent.

“While all distractions are dangerous, text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted,” said Davison. “And it’s against the law to operate any hand-held device behind the wheel in New York State.”

Research shows that immaturity and inexperience, along with distractions, are primary factors contributing to deadly crashes by young drivers, and that’s one of the reasons the three-stage Graduated Driver Licensing laws were established. Young drivers are required to demonstrate responsible driving behavior at each stage of licensing before advancing to the next level, which has helped save lives, but even the most experienced drivers can be easily distracted, often resulting in tragic consequences.

There are some positive trends that teen drivers are getting the message. Overall teen driving deaths and teen driver involvement in fatal crashes have declined during the last nine years, according to NHTSA. In 2010, the number of fatalities in crashes involving a 15- to 19-year-old driver dropped 46 percent compared with 2001. Driver fatalities for this age group also dropped by 47 percent over the same period.

“Teens are getting the message, but we must continue to educate them on the risks of distracted driving to keep new drivers safe and to remind seasoned drivers of the law and the risks,” said Davison.

The St. Lawrence County Traffic Safety Program is encouraging teens and adults to take and keep the distracted driving pledge at www.distraction.gov. Information for parents and younger drivers is available on the New York State Younger Driver web site, http://www.dmv.ny.gov/youngerdriver/default.html.