Save Our Teen Drivers

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

Posts Tagged ‘distracted driving’

Teen driving laws aren’t enough to save lives

Posted by lapearce on February 7, 2010

Teen driver was following all teen driving laws when he struck a school bus last Tuesday, killing his sister

At any given time in this country there is a state considering a new teen driving law. Most of these laws restrict what teen drivers can do with the intent of protecting the new drivers. Of course, many teens and parents see these laws as discriminating or “unfair” to “safe” drivers. While I would prefer that state governments took their focus off of driving laws and instead focused their time, money and resources on driver’s education, all of the restrictions they pass are aimed at saving lives, not singling out new drivers.

Take for example Florida’s current attempt to ban new driver’s from carrying passengers. This seems to be the law that has the most resistance from teens and parents. Parents take advantage of their child’s new mobility to have them shuttle around friends, siblings, teammates, etc or be the ones being shuttled around– paying them back for sixteen years of being a taxi driver for their kids. Teens, on the other hand, love to ride with their friends and don’t like giving up this privilege.

One girl interviewed for the Florida law said she felt the law was unfair for responsible teens. The problem here isn’t responsibility, it’s a lack of knowledge, experience and attention plus peer pressure. Even the best drivers can be distracted by other people in the car– I can still be after years of driving– and when you lack experience it can be deadly. Teens are much more likely to crash when they have friends in the car and they are also more likely to drive dangerously.

Because of peer pressure teens are less likely to buckle up when they have other teen passengers. I guess it isn’t cool to save your own hide in a crash. They are also more likely to speed and drive aggressively as they show off their driving skills to their un-belted friends and younger siblings.

However, we can’t rely on laws to solve this problem. Police consistently report that it is difficult to enforce passenger laws. You can’t tell by looking at a driver whether or not they’ve been driving for a month or a year, or whether their passenger is a sibling or a friend. Because of that, most new drivers are cited only if they are pulled over for breaking another law. The solution to this problem isn’t laws, its through the knowledge and enforcement of parents.

No matter how convenient it is to have your teen play taxi driver for his/her friends and no matter how convenient it is to have your teen get a ride from another teen driver, as parents you have to know when to say no. Use common sense: don’t let your teen have passengers if they are new to driving and don’t let him/her ride with anyone who hasn’t had their license for at least six months (preferably a year). Take time into consideration as well, don’t let your child drive/ride in a car late at night when there are more drunks on the road and the driver is likely fatigued.

Also, learn about the friend your teen is getting a ride with. Do they have any tickets? Have they been in a crash? Are they responsible drivers? Talk to your teen about peer pressure, using a seat belt and encourage them to speak up if the driver is being irresponsible. Set an agreement with your child that if they don’t feel safe with a driver that you will pick them up– no matter where they are.

Even if teenagers are following the laws of the state it doesn’t mean they are immune from a crash. Last week a fifteen-year-old girl was killed in Colorado when her sixteen-year-old brother pulled his car in front of a school bus. It was legal for the boy to transport his sister and the fourteen-year-old neighbor also in the car, but for what ever reason– whether it be distraction, not seeing the bus or fog on the window during the cold morning, passenger restriction laws were not enough to save a life.

I’ve heard many parents say that they won’t let their teen ride with any teen driver who hasn’t taken a defensive driving course. This is an excellent idea that I completely support. Education is the key here. You can’t overcome many of the challenges of age and experience that teen drivers face, but you can significantly increase their chances of survival through a defensive driving/accident avoidance course. These classes show teens the dangers on the road, what distractions do to their reaction time and their driving abilities and the abilities of their cars– where are often times grossly over estimated by new drivers. No law can make up for experience.


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Teenage girls are becoming more agressive on the road

Posted by lapearce on February 4, 2010

I guess that whole gender equality movement has finally peaked with the upcoming generation. A recent Allstate survey found that while teen boys are becoming calmer behind the wheel teen girls are increasingly taking part in risky behavior. Girls are also more likely to text while they drive– one in four are guilty of it.

The old assumptions that parents and insurance companies have had about girls being safer on the road than boys is coming to a screeching halt and girls prove that they can be dangerous too. If you have a teen daughter don’t feel as though she’ll be safe because she isn’t “aggressive”. As the old Disney cartoon “Motor Mania” showed, people become different when they are behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Studies have actually shown that we de-humanize people when they are surrounded by steal– or even the helmet of a motorcycle. We don’t react to them as people, we react to them as ‘cars’. This de-humanizing allows us to drop our typical societal norms of politeness and to treat people how we wouldn’t treat them if they weren’t in a vehicle. Would you ever cut in front of someone in line at the grocery store? Probably not. They will likely tap you on the shoulder and point to the end of the line. But how many of us have cut in front of other cars? No shoulder tapping, no pointing, a honk is easy enough to escape.

Girls need to be reminded that they are not immune to problems on the road. The dangers of distractions need to be drilled in them more than boys and both sexes need all the education they can get on how to be safe drivers.

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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.

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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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Holidays and broken laws

Posted by lapearce on November 28, 2009

I have a bad relationship with a certain stop sign on holidays. This stop sign is about half a mile from my parents house. Because I’m a loving daughter who spends time with her family, I tend to encounter this stop sign on holidays. On July 4th at this certain stop sign I almost got T-boned by another car that completely forgot to stop. Luckily, because I’m a cautious and aware driver, I was paying attention and was able to slam on my brakes as he sailed through the intersection at about 40 mph. He miss my car by about a foot. (If that isn’t an argument for defensive driving I don’t know what is).

On Thanksgiving I encountered another oblivious driver at this now infamous stop sign. I went to the grocery store on Thanksgiving to pick up some odds and ends that were forgotten, like cranberries and eggs for my dad’s wonderful homemade pecan pie. I approach the stop sign to turn left. I do my due diligence of scanning before moving forward, then I do what I always do: I look in my rear view mirror. This important defensive driving tool is so often forgotten now days. It’s a great way of seeing what disaster approaches so you can avoid it. On Thursday it revealed a Honda Odyssey. The minivan was a lane over, I wasn’t in danger from it, but there was another car waiting to turn left in front of the 4,500 lb juggernaut about to blatantly blow the stop sign as if it never existed. I started to enter the intersection then it became very obvious: she was not going to stop.

I stopped and watched both the person waiting to turn left and her. I honked once: the person turning left stopped. Then I honked a second time and she sailed through the intersection. No brake lights, no reaction, nothing. What was more surprising was that she wasn’t distracted. There was no phone, no map, no yelling baby in the back seat. This woman looked like she was hypnotized. Her hands were at 10 and two and she was looking straight ahead… she was so focused and yet, not paying attention to anything. After she carried on her merry, dangerous way the person waiting to turn left turned safely and I continued on my way to my parents, thinking about the moron in the Corolla who almost ruined my 4th of July at the same intersection.

Is it a coincidence that I witnessed two people fly through this stop sign at two separate holidays? Perhaps. I’d like to think that the answer is that both times it was people who were unfamiliar with the area and in the process of watching street signs and trying to find out where they were going for the holiday that they missed the stop sign. I doubt alcohol was a factor in either case, the near miss in July was at 11am, and thursday the Odyssey failed to stop at about 2 in the afternoon. But in both cases the drivers weren’t on the phone, they didn’t have maps in their hands or any obvious distractions. In any case, I’m curious to see what happens on Christmas when I come to this stop sign once again… what law-breaker will I encounter that time?

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Worst driving invention ever?

Posted by lapearce on November 23, 2009

Worst idea ever?

Have you ever been driving in your car and think, “wow, this trip would be so much better if I had a desk where I could read or write while I drive?” Apparently some guy with half a brain and enough money to make this a reality did. The result is the laptop steering wheel desk, quite possibly the worst driving aid ever invented.

Is it just some elaborate joke? No, it’s not. First it takes money to put something on Amazon, secondly, the makers, Mobile Gear, have an actual Web site where you can buy it as well.

I’m going to take this out of the hoax category and firmly in the bad-ideas-that-actually-exist category right next to the Snuggie and the the Big Top Cupcake Maker (easily worst problem-solution commerical on TV right now). The big difference is that you don’t risk your life by wearing an over sized backwards robe or by making ridiculously big cupcakes. Unless, of course, you trip on the robe or get heart disease from the cholesterol in the cupcakes, but you would be risking your life every time you used the laptop steering wheel desk.

I cannot imagine why anyone would think this was a good idea. Distracted driving killed about 6,000 people in 2008. This is more than all of the teen driving deaths in the United States that same year. Distracted driving, or inattention, is one of the major causes of crashes in the United States.

So lets put a desk on people’s steering wheel that allows them to multitask while they drive… brilliant!

Luckily, many of the people who found the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk on Amazon realized it was a bad idea. They blanketed the site with false reviews and photos that pointed out the inherent danger of the device. Here are some of my favorites:

"Even works in super luxury GT cars. Desk floats to keep your expensive electronics dry."

"I gave these out as gifts to people in the office. The best part was we could all browse the web while waiting for the emergency crews to arrive."

"Makes driving and working a breeze"

"Enhances social networking"

“Wow is this thing great! I use it as a “mini-bar” when the friends and I go out to the bars. I can quickly fix multiple shots of tequila for myself and the friends as we drive from one bar to the next.!”

“One cautionary note be careful of those jerks that stop at yellow lights, my poor mother rear ended one and the airbag drove the desk back into her stomach which ruptured her spleen, well after a short down time I’m glad to say she is back on the road and cranking out those NY Times crosswords once again. Thanks Laptop Steering Wheel Desk you have made my mothers life more complete.”

“This product is so awesome for freeway driving and makes reloading your handgun while changing lanes a breeze. The only thing missing is a cupholder for my tequila. I attached a pen on a string to mine to mark my hits and misses.”

If you would like to tell the manufacturer of this product that they are complete morons, please call:

Mobile Gear


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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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Texting while driving is worse than drinking and driving.

Posted by lapearce on July 13, 2009

Car & Drivers texting vs. drunk driving results

Car & Driver's texting vs. drunk driving stop distance results

One of my fellow driving instructors, Steve, was driving to work last week when he saw a Ford Expedition that was having trouble maintaining his lane. He looked over and saw the woman driving the SUV was texting. His carpool passengers watched her as Steve drove and noticed that sometimes she would drive for a full 20 seconds without looking up.

Steve looked ahead and saw that traffic had come to a stop. He looked over again and saw that the woman was still looking down. He announced, “She’s going to hit someone” and slowed down so that someone wouldn’t be him. What happened next he still can’t believe he witnessed.

She came up on the stopped traffic going about 50mph. She looked up just feet before hitting an SUV in front of her. She tried to brake but by then it was too late. Steve dialed 911 before the crash even happened in order to report the inevitable. He then stopped to check on the drivers. The woman’s airbags had deployed and the entire front of her SUV was destroyed. He went up to her window and asked if she was alright. Her response was:

I don’t know what happened.

Distractions are dangerous. I think people know that even as they willingly take part in these distractions. They just feel it won’t happen to them, or they are a better driver and are able to overcome what others can’t. You just can’t get away from the cold, hard facts about texting while driving, however, it is more dangerous than driving drunk.

The Transport Research Labratory in the U.K. found that texting reduces reaction time by 35 percent, compared to 12 percent for drinking and driving. Scarier still, the study found that steering ability decreased 95 percent while texting. So not only do you have a third less time to react to what is happening on the road, you have nearly no ability to avoid any emergency.

Car and Driver also recently did a study on how texting and driving compares to drunk driving and found the same results. In one test, one of the drivers went nearly 300 feet longer before braking than he did while driving drunk. That is the difference of a football field! Would you blindfold yourself and run the length of a football field with other people and objects on the field for you to hit? Probably not, that could be painful, and yet drivers do this every time they text message while driving.

Even with this information, 60 percent of teens admit to texting while driving.

So how can we help? Bans only work if they are enforced and no one wants their child to learn the hard way with a crash. I would look to enroll your child in a defensive driving school that goes over the dangers of distractions. In our class we have kids master a slalom, then once they are confident in their skills, we have them do it again while trying to pick up an object meant to be their cell phone. Then we have them run through it again with them pretending to talk on their cell phone.

The results are amazing. Cones go everywhere, parents step way back, and some of the teens come to a complete stop in the “road” because they are so distracted. We don’t do this with them texting, because it would be impossible to go between cones while doing so, and after trying to do the course with a cell phone to their ear, the teens recognize that.

Yesterday I had one student say, “Being on a cell phone is more dangerous than I thought!” and another said she realized now just how much she had to pay attention to while driving, and the thought of adding distraction was too scary to imagine.

If you don’t have access to a car control clinic I recommend getting some cones and going to an empty and open parking lot. Create a course and help your child drive through it. Once they’ve mastered it, have them do it again pretending to be on their phone. Ride with them as you do this so if they accidently hit the gas (it can happen) you can quickly gain control. They’ll see the difference, and so will you.

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NSC unveils “Death by Cellphone” billboards in Florida

Posted by lapearce on July 7, 2009

2,600 people a year are killed on the roads because of cell phone use. The National Safety Council has taken the stories of two of these people: Linda, a 61-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Oklahoma, and Joe, a 12-year-old boy from Michigan to drive this point home in Florida.

Florida currently has no ban what so ever on cell phone use or text messaging. Cell phone use increases the chance of a crash four times, and texting has been shown to be more dangerous than driving and driving. But bans are in their infancy and most drivers admit that they do talk while they drive, even if they are aware of the consequences.

NSC hopes that their billboards about cell phone use, which will be seen by an estimated 56,000 people a day, will help inform Florida drivers of the risks. Of course, ironically, billboards are also huge distractions for drivers. So by spreading their message they are also taking the drivers eyes and attention off the road, potentially resulting in crashes. But I guess you can’t win them all.

Florida Press-News article on the billboards.

There are things that you as a driver can do to help ensure that you are not in a crash because of a distracted driver as well. The most obvious way is to not be distracted yourself. But not being distracted is only one part of the equation, you also need to be aware of your surroundings. In my opinion, a driver who stares straight a head and never looks in any other direction is just as dangerous as a driver on his/her cell phone. If you ever said or thought “that came out of nowhere!” then you probably weren’t paying enough attention while driving.

If you are aware of your surroundings you will have a better chance of seeing the distracted driver before they hit you. You can do this by lifting your eyes up, above the center of your windshield and looking several cars a head of you. You also need to check your mirrors often.

Many people feel that their mirrors are only to be used while changing lanes, in reality, you should be looking at them every few seconds in order to stay aware of your surroundings. It also helps if they are adjusted properly. There are no blind spots on a car if your mirrors are adjusted right. You may think it is witch craft but I’ve adjusted the mirrors on hundreds of cars for hundreds of students and I have yet to find a blind spot. Give it a shot. There’s no reason to see the side of your car anyways, it’s going the same place the front of the car is.

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New Jesery’s next target: GPS

Posted by lapearce on June 21, 2009


BMW has a flat dashboard and controls on the passenger side so passengers can operate the GPS while the driver drives

BMW has a flat dashboard and controls on the passenger side so passengers can operate the GPS while the driver drives

New Jersey is a national leader in driving laws right now. They were one of the earlier states to ban cell phone use and text messaging while driving, and the first state to introduce teen driving stickers for new drivers. Now New Jersey Assemblyman Harvey Smith has his aim on legislature’s next target: GPS.


The use of GPS in a car is arguably safer than looking down at maps and directions. Play-by-play spoken directions with maps that follow your location are meant to help prevent drivers from being distracted. They probably do, except at one key time:

When you program them.

The process of adding/finding a destination and telling the GPS unit to get you there may only take a minute, but it’s a minute when your eyes are off the road. Newer BMWs have the dash face the center of the car, and not the driver, specifically so the passenger can program the GPS for the driver while he/she drives. Other GPS units, like Honda’s, are voice activated to limit the amount of time you look at them. 

I understand the danger here, but the process takes so little time that I can’t see how it can be enforced. The police will need to have a sharp eye in order to give out the $100 fine for programing a GPS unit while you drive. Ironically, this could be distracting for the police.

This is not yet law, it was just been introduced to the legislature on June 8. It needs to get through both houses and the governor before it becomes illegal to program your GPS while driving. The article linked above asks a very good question: what’s next? Ipods? Looking for gum? Smacking your kids in the backseat?

How about we just get some common sense, figure out this stuff is dangerous and stop doing it? I spoke to a 19 year old girl last night who totalled her last car because she was texting while she drove. I told her how that wasn’t a very good ideas and she told me, “oh, I’ll still do it.”

Paging Darwin to the U.S. roads.

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