Save Our Teen Drivers

Advocating for driver's education changes. Educating the public on the problem. Finding a solution that saves lives.

Posts Tagged ‘cell phone’

New Pennsylvania driving laws will fund driver’s education

Posted by lapearce on February 1, 2010

Chairman of the House Transportation Committee in Pennsylvania, Rep. Joseph Markosek, knows that it takes more than laws to get people to change how they drive, “People have a responsibility when operating a 4,000-pound battering ram… We can only legislate up to a certain point.” Few truer words have ever been spoken by a member of government on driving.

This if new driving laws are passed 75 percent of the revenue from tickets issued for breaking the laws will go directly to distracted driving education. I wish the funds would go into driving education instead of just distracted driving education, which only focuses on a small part of the driving problem and doesn’t do anything to teach people how to drive, but with the insanity of driving laws and the poor standards of education that exist in this country anything is an improvement.

The bill that has been passed by the House but still awaits passage by Senate, would make talking on the phone while driving a primary offense for all drivers, meaning a police officer could pull you over if you are on the phone but not breaking any other laws.  Not wearing a seat belt will also be a primary offense for teen drivers and new drivers will be required to have 65 hours of in car practice before they get their license instead of 50 hours (so a lot more kids will be forging their driving logs).

The legislation still needs to be merged with Senate legislation then approved by the governor. It’s a good step in the right direction even if it is a small one. Pennsylvania would get more bang-for-its buck if it stepped up driver’s ed to focus more on driving skills and defensive driving instead of focusing on short-sighted campaigns that only talk about the dangers of cellphones and maybe have participates do a quick driving course with a phone attached to their ear.


Posted in Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Study shows that cell phone laws don’t work

Posted by lapearce on January 29, 2010

You are four times more likely to crash if you are talking on a phone while drive than when you are not. In light of this fact the government came up with a solution: take phones away. Make it illegal and people will stop talking, crashes will drop, people will sing hallelujah! Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened.  The results are in and “surprising”. According to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Institute for Highway Safety cell phone bans do not reduce the number of crashes.

“You know that there should be fewer [crashes],” he said. “We were looking for that, and we aren’t seeing that pattern,” said Adrian Lund, president of the Institute.

So does this mean that people are ignoring the bans? Actually, what is surprising about this is that people are not ignoring the bans. Cell phone use in states where it is banned has been cut 41-76 percent. Even though fewer people are chatting, the same number of people are crashing. It is counter-intuitive based on the higher crash risk while on the phone. So have Americans simply ceased to know how to drive? I’m starting to think they have.

There are two big problems with cell phone bans. First, in most states hands-free devices are still legal, but just as dangerous. The danger doesn’t come from holding a phone to your ear, it comes from your brain deciding that the conversation is more important than driving, which takes critical attention away from the more important task at hand: operating a two-ton machine at a high rate of speed. The second problem is that the most dangerous aspects of cell phone use are not illegal. These are: activating your bluetooth, dialing a number, answering the phone, etc etc etc all of which take your eyes off the road longer than the act of talking.

The other aspect is that while cell phone use is down, distractions are still up. GPS, Ipods, Starbucks. All of these items didn’t exist in cars 20 years ago, but now they are all but required. I also feel that people no longer stop to do what should be done when stopped. It was difficult to read a map and drive because the map was three feet across, folded 12 different ways and took a lot of attention. So you stopped to pull the map out and find your way. GPS is not three feet across and folded, but it can still be distracting, especially when you are plugging that address in.

People need to just get their eyes back on the road. Pull over to find your favorite CD or directions to Aunt Betsy’s house. Don’t think that just because you aren’t on the phone that you can’t be distracted.

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Teens still text while driving

Posted by lapearce on November 16, 2009

A car gets a flat tire in the passing lane of a freeway. The driver puts the hazards on, but five other cars still manage to hit the disabled vehicle causing a pile up. This crash wasn’t caused by text messaging, but the one a mile back in the traffic caused by the pile up was.

17 year old Laurie Cartwright was likely distracted by a text message when she hit the tractor-trailer in front of her that was stopped in traffic from the crash caused by the disabled car a mile up the road. The crash took Laurie’s life. In fact, last year nearly 6,000 people died from distracted driving, many from cell phone/texting.

Last year nearly 6,000 people died from distracted driving.

Screen shot from the gruesome UK PSA on texting while driving

Laurie’s story is one that is shared by many people across the United States. Yet despite personal experience, the wide-spread acknowledgment that texting while driving is dangerous, and even gory PSAs warning against the practice, a new study by the Pew Institute shows that one-in-three teens text while they drive. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Similar studies done in specific states such as Colorado and Texas have also shown even higher percentages of texting teens. If anything, the study should say “Texting while driving decreases among teen drivers.

A more disturbing fact found in the Pew study is that many teens confessed that they have seen their parents text while drive.  One teen said his dad drives “like he’s drunk. His phone is just like sitting right in front of his face, and he puts his knees on the bottom of the steering wheel and tries to text.” How can we expect our children to drive safely when this is the example we put before them?

The other problem here is the feeling of invincibility most teens have.

Try this experiment if you disagree with me. Ask any new driver how they think they compare to other drivers on the road. Chances are they will tell you that they are better than the average driver. You know, and I know, that based on the amount of experience they’ve had behind the wheel the chances of them being better than average are pretty slim, unless they are some driving prodigy. Despite this, most teens suffer from delusions of grandeur when it comes to their driving ability, and it shines through in the type of crashes they are involved in (typically caused by following too close, speeding and distractions.)

One teen in the Pew study said,  “I usually try to keep the phone up near the windshield, so if someone is braking in front of me or stops short, I’m not going to be looking down and hit them.” another said “it’s fine” to text and drive, and that he wears sunglasses while doing it “so the cops don’t see”

How do you overcome a false sense of skill and get it across to kids that what they are doing is bad? One thing to do is to show them how much texting does effect their awareness and reaction time. Unless you have professional driving instructors teaching this is best done outside of the car. Another option is to look at software that turns phones off while driving, such as Zoomsafer. Parents need to reenforce the dangers of this practice and set rules.

Here are some take aways from the Pew study:

  • 52 percent of teens ages 16 and 17 who have cell phones say they have talked on their phones while driving.
  • 34 percent of teens ages 16 and 17 who text say they have done so while driving.
  • 48 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver was texting.
  • 40 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver “used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.”
  • 75 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have a cell phone, and 66 percent of them send or receive text messages.
  • Boys and girls are equally likely to report to texting while driving.
  • Many teens blame the need to report their whereabouts to friends and parents as the reason for texting while driving.

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NHTSA knew risks about cell phones but did not act!

Posted by lapearce on July 21, 2009

What would cause a public agency that was formed to protect you, the consumer, to sit on hundreds of pages of research that said driving while talking on the phone was dangerous? Why would provoke an agency that’s mission is to: “save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity.” to not do what it was formed to do?


Or at least, the fear of Congress. That is what provoked the NHTSA to not act on undeniable proof that cell phones lead to crashes. The agency worried that if it was to start promoting this research to the states it would come off as lobbying. It worried that if Congress thought it was lobbying, it would pull billions of transportation funds from the agency.

The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen used the public information act to access this information, uncovering quite the scandal in the NHTSA, the Transportation Department, and potentially the House Appropriations Committee. The documents can be views here. In one of the memos uncovered these quotes:

“We nevertheless have concluded that the use of cellphones while driving has contributed to an increasing number of crashes, injuries and fatalities.”

“We therefore recommend that the drivers not use wireless communication devices, including text messaging systems, when driving, except in an emergency.”

NHTSAs mission is to save lives... by hiding information that can save lives?

NHTSA's mission is to save lives... by hiding information that can save lives?

In total, cell phones have been blamed for 955 fatalities and 240,000 accidents  in 2002. These numbers have most likely increased since cell phone use has increased from 77 percent of adults to 89 percent of adults from 2006.

The rational behind the decision of the Transportation Department is mind boggling. Here is an organization designed to save lives, and yet they are sitting on information that could save lives because they don’t want to lose funding?

Director of the Center for Auto Safety, Clarence Ditlow put it this way: “We’re looking at a problem that could be as bad as drunk driving, and the government has covered it up.”

So what will come of this? A slap on the hand? Or worse? Perhaps lawsuits from those injured or by the family members of people who were killed? I think it is common sense that talking on the phone and driving is dangerous. I don’t think we need a government agency to spend millions of dollars to confirm that cell phone use while driving is dangerous. But the reasoning for not confirming this is completely unacceptable.

Ditmore says it well: “No public health and safety agency should allow its research to be suppressed for political reasons,” and doing so “will cause deaths and injuries on the highways.”

We need to see where else this is happening. What other agencies aren’t doing potentially life saving research for fear of losing funding? And why would Congress pull funding when an agency does its job? Changes obviously need to be made.

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Indiana on the look out for teens on their cell phones, but how do they know who to pull over?

Posted by lapearce on July 9, 2009

Officer Matthews wants to enforce teen cell phone ban, but doesnt know who to pull over

Officer Matthews wants to enforce teen cell phone ban, but doesn't know who to pull over

Last Wednesday new driving laws went into effect in Indiana that, among other things, ban new drivers from using cell phones. Officer Randy Matthews says he’s been on the look out for chatting teens for the past week in order to enforce the law. So far, he’s pulled over none. The problem is… Matthews has no way to knowing if the driver is under the age of 18 as they drive past him.

“Unless we have prior knowledge, if we already know the driver is under 18 years of age and we see them driving with their cell phone, sure we can pull them over and cite them, but generally, it’s going to be a secondary offense if we see someone driving without a seatbelt,” Matthews said.

How effective will these laws be if Indiana lacks the man power to enforce the new graduated drivers education laws, and have trouble enforcing them even if they are looking? Sergent Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police told the sad but true fact about these laws:

“We’re expecting voluntary compliance. We’re expecting parents to reinforce it with their young driver.”

In other words: we really can’t do anything to enforce the laws so we just hope teens and parents take it upon themselves to do so. In my opinion, unless we mark the cars of teen drivers with some indicator that they are a new driver, all defensive driving laws out there will be governed by voluntary compliance and secondary offense tickets. That is the only way to allow police officers to accurately spot and cite teens breaking the law. Until then the laws are just suggestions.

What I really worry about is that parents will feel that their children won’t be doing acts that are illegal under graduated driving laws because they feel that the laws are being enforced. I worry that a huge gap in communications and education can form between parents and teens because of assumed enforcement. In short: don’t rely on anyone else to monitor your teen on the road. Teach them what to do and have repercussions in place if they break the rules. The police may not be able to enforce the law, but you are able to enforce your own driving laws.

Posted in Graduated Driver's Licenses, law | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

New laws take effect next month in Indiana

Posted by lapearce on June 10, 2009

If you have a new driver, a child who will be driving soon, or are a new driver in Indiana, make sure you are aware of the new laws going into effect July 1.

Starting July 1 drivers under the age of 18 cannot drive between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for the first six months of their license. They also must wait six months before driving with teen passengers. Remember to turn that phone off too, starting July 1 cell phone use, aside for in emergency situations (i.e. calling 911 not helping your friend through a breakup) will be banned.

the law hopes to reduce the number of crashes among teen drivers, crashes that injured or killed over 800 Indiana teens in 2007.

The comment on the story linked above shows how few people understand how important legislation like this is:

…and who is going to enforce this worthless piece of legislation? There are more important things for police to be doing than trying to guess someone’s age and then stop them for talking on the phone. This is useless crap. –Derek

When more teens die every year on our roads than all military casulalties from the Iraq War, I’m not really sure what more important things there are for police to focus on, at least not from a road enforcement perspective. After all, aren’t police here to protect us and save lives?

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The call that can cost a life

Posted by lapearce on June 5, 2009

If given the option between answering a ringing phone or living, most of us would chose the latter. More and more commonly, however, people are choosing to use cell phones while the drive, and sometimes that means paying for their decision with their life.

On Wednesday a 17-year-old boy was killed while trying to reach his ringing cell phone in his pocket. He became distracted from the road causing him to veer into the medium. When he tried to pull the SUV back on the road he lost control and rolled the vehicle.  Both the driver and his 16-year-old passenger were taken to the hospital for injuries following the crash. The driver passed away yesterday, his passenger has since been released from the hospital.

“It only takes a fraction of a second of unfocused driving to cause a collision that may result in death or serious injury. Focus on driving.” said Traffic Sgt. Tom O’Brien in regard to the crash that took the young man’s life.

Drivers learn this lesson the hard way every day. Some are fortunate enough to learn this before they are put in a life or death situation.  At Siegel High School in Tennessee, for example, an obstacle course was recently set up for teen drivers to navigate while distracted to show what a difference a distraction could make. “I hit most of my cones while I was trying to talk on my cellphone,” said Seth Morgan, a participate in the program.

Another quite simply said, “Stay off the cell phone while you’re driving… Ignore distractions.”

You are four times more likely to get into a car crash while taking on the phone, and the act reduces reaction time to the level of a driver in their 70s. I feel that most people understand that talking and driving are dangerous, but about 70 percent of us admit to doing this. What is scarier is that 20 percent of teens admit to texting while driving, which is far more distracting.

Maybe it’s a mindset that it won’t happen to us. Maybe we feel like we are better than the other drivers out there.  I feel that courses where you can compare how you drive without a phone and with a phone are a great way of sobering us to the hard truth: talking and driving or texting while driving kills.

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More states to restrict cell phone use while driving

Posted by lapearce on May 31, 2009

21 states have now banned, or restricted, cell phone use for new drivers, and 24 other states have bills that would do the same (what are the five states without any restrictions? I’d like to know). These states have good reason to ban phones, the National Safety Council has found that drivers are 4x more likely to crash while using a cell phone. Inattention kills, and in today’s wired world it is so easier to pick up the phone and stop paying attention to the road around us. We’re all guilty of using our phones while we drive, but in some states, that can lead to a heavy fine, and for young drivers, even worse punishment.

Here are some of the new laws coming to a state near you:

Kentucky has two bills on the floor that would prohibit drivers from using cell phones while driving. Punishment for adults is a fine, for teen drivers, they get another 180 days added to their provisional license

Missouri passed a law that ban anyone under the sage of 21 from texting while driving at the cost of $200 and two points on your record. I have to wonder if we do become texting while driving experts after we turn 21, however.

Kansas (same article as above) prohibits anyone under the age of 16 1/2 from using a phone while driving. It’s a start, but this law is still too weak.

The Tulsa World article brings up some troubling statistics about the effectiveness of cell phone and texting bans, however:

he insurance institute last year studied a cell phone ban for drivers under 18 in North Carolina. Researchers found that teens leaving high school in the afternoon changed little before and after the ban started.

About 11 percent of teen drivers were seen using phones before the law. It increased to 12 percent after the ban, the study found.

Rader, the insurance institute spokesman, said laws restricting cell phone use don’t appear to be effective. He pointed out that most teens interviewed in North Carolina knew about the cell phone ban, but didn’t think it was vigorously enforced.

“If drivers don’t believe they are likely to be spotted and ticketed, they’re unlikely to change their behavior,” he said.

Another study of a ban on handheld cell phones for New York drivers turned up similar results. Cell phone use dropped immediately after the ban started, but a year later it had picked up again.

“As soon as the publicity died down, cell phone use went back up to almost where it was before,” Rader said.

The moral of the story us: if the laws aren’t being enforced, they won’t be followed. It doesn’t matter how dangerous talking and driving is, it doesn’t matter how many people die doing so, no enforcement = no compliance.

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Dropped Cell Phone Leads to Fatal Crash

Posted by lapearce on February 14, 2009

I was just reading a report from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration today that sited that teen drivers did not see a link between distractions and crashes, even though many of them have accidents while distracted. The NHTSA actually recommended that: “If they can’t be talked out of multitasking they should be encouraged not to tailgate to avoid frequent rear-end collisions.” That mentality of treating a symptom and not a problem would not have saved Gladis A. Andrade-Zepeda today.

Gladis, 33, was driving early this morning on the 405 freeway with two passengers when she dropped her cell phone. As she looked for the phone, her car swerved across lanes and hit the center divider. Both Gladis and her passengers survived the accident, but then, she made the decision that cost her her life: she got out of the car.

Gladis was attempting to get her passenger in the backseat out of the car when another car, traveling at normal highway speeds, broadsided her vehicle, killing Gladis. Her car was completely dark since the lights were broken in the collision and she didn’t put her hazards on. The passenger still in the backseat survived both the initial crash and the secondary one with moderate injuries.

This tragic story reminds us of a few important considerations when driving:

1. Distractions kill. California’s new cell phone law does not prohibit the searching for or the dialing of a cell phone while driving. These are the most dangerous acts one can do with a phone while driving.

2. Put your hazards on after a collision. This will make your car visible to others to help avoid another crash. The same NHTSA study found that new drivers do not know what to do in an accident. I feel that better education in this area could have saved Gladis’s life.

3. Stay in your car. 4,000 lbs of metal around you offer better protection than your body alone.

My hopes and prayers go out to Gladis’ family and friends, and for the recovery of the other people involved in this tragic crash.

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