Save Our Teen Drivers

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

Posts Tagged ‘driving’

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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Parents’ driving effect how teens drive

Posted by lapearce on November 23, 2009

What bad habits are you teaching your children?

Are you a good driver? Do you use your turn blinker, follow at a safe distance, obey speed limits… do you use your phone while you drive, do you yell at other drivers, do you drive without your seat belt? If you have children, you should probably review how you drive, not just for the safety of your children today, but for the sake of their driving future.

While we may think that teenagers strive to be nothing like their parents, when it comes to driving, teens look up to their parents more than anyone else. “If children grow up watching their Mum or Dad talk, text and email on their mobiles while driving, they’re going to think it’s okay to do the same thing.” says Peter Rodger chief examiner of the Institute of Advanced Motorists in the UK.

Rodger says that children start to take note of their parents driving style from a young age. Even if you enforce seat belt use for your children, if you don’t wear one, your child will likely not buckle up when they start driving.

A US based study done by Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) found that 60% of high school students said their parents are the biggest influence on their driving. Younger children report even higher numbers, showing they are watching you long before they are able to drive themselves.

So 60% of teens look up to their parents as the number one influence on their driving, yet:

  • 62% say their parents talk on the phone while driving
  • 48% say their parents speed
  • 31% say their parents don’t wear seat belts

So perhaps it’s not surprising to learn that:

  • 62% of teens talk on the phone while driving (half of those who don’t yet drive think they will too)
  • 67% speed (65% of non drivers think they will)
  • 33% don’t wear seat belts (28% of non drivers say they won’t)

The numbers are too close to be coincidence. This is why our driving program involves parents. Many of the safe driving tips we teach were not taught to parents, or have been forgotten. When parents are involved the crash risk drops substantially among teen drivers. If parents put forth a good example for their teens, crash rates drop even more. Before you do something unsafe on the road look in the back seat: will your decision effect more than just you?

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Ohio honors safe teen drivers with Lights for Life

Posted by lapearce on November 16, 2009

No, Ohio does not need to tell its drivers to turn their headlights on at night, most of them (hopefully) already know to do this. Ohio is actually trying to honor the increased safety of its teen drivers and to raise awareness of teen driving safety and the cause behind crashes involving teen drivers by asking Ohio drivers to keep their headlights on at all times in an effort they call “Lights for Life“.

Of course, most crashes caused by teen drivers aren’t due to a lack of headlights, so hopefully the point gets across.

Ohio is using this nifty little PR tactic in conjunction to Ohio’s first Youth Traffic Safety Summit held by SADD members. SADD, Students Against Destructive Decisions, is a very important peer group that has been active in reducing crashes across the nation. The organization hopes to have 300 students and state legislators attend the summit.

39 percent of Ohio’s crashes were caused by young drivers (15-25)  in 2008. The leading causes were: following too close, failure to yield and excessive speed. Most crashes happen on the way home from school. So far in 2009 there have been about 65,500 crashes that involved young drivers, down from 70,000 this time last year.

So keep those headlights on in Ohio, but more importantly, remember why they are being kept on and if you are a parent, be an active part in your child’s driving education to ensure they aren’t 65,501 this year.

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Ford admits that costly blind spot system are pointless

Posted by lapearce on August 21, 2009

Volvo and Ford offers this. I think Mercedes does too. It drives me up the wall. In case you haven’t seen the ad it looks like this:

“Alex is about to collide with a motorcycle that is squarely in his blind spot…” but because his Volvo has the nifty Blind Spot Information System (BLIS because BSIS isn’t as catchy) system, he’ll be alerted to it and not kill the dumb motorcycle driver who is trying to pass him on the right when he has his turn blinker on. However, Alex wouldn’t need to rely on his fancy $700-$1,600 (cheaper on the Volvo than on a Ford believe it or not) dollar BLIS system  if he just adjusted his mirrors properly.

I can hear you getting mad already. But all cars have a blind spot, you are thinking. No, they don’t. In a New York Time’s interview Ford’s chief safety engineer, Steve Kozak, says that proper adjustment of the side mirrors illuminates blind spots. But adds, most drivers don’t adjust their mirrors that way so BLIS is a valuable safety aid.

Steve Kozak, Ford’s chief safety engineer, acknowledged that side mirrors can be set to eliminate the blind zone. But most drivers don’t adjust their mirrors that way so BLIS is a valuable safety aid, he said.

Que the head banging.

The problem starts when we are 15 1/2 and we are sitting in driver’s ed. And the instructor, who we all assume knows what he’s talking about because someone said he could  teach us all how to drive, teaches us SMOG: signal, mirror, over the shoulder, go, as the proper way to change lanes. Why look over your shoulder trusty driving instructor? One may ask. Why, he says, to check your blind spot. But why is there a blind spot trusty driving instructor? Because the DMV says so.

On page 12 of the handbook designed to help parents teach their teens how to drive in California it clearly says that to change lanes you need to “check your blind spot by looking over your shoulder” In the section on page 5 about preparing to drive it has one line about mirrors, and that is, “adjust the mirrors” but how? The DMV doesn’t say. The DMV doesn’t tell teens the proper way to adjust their mirrors so that they don’t have a blind spot, because the DMV in all its infinite wisdom doesn’t believe it is possible. All they’d have to do is adjust the mirrors as columnist Christopher Jensen explains in the article and see that the blind spot is gone. But that would probably mean getting a multi-million dollar grant to confirm. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Drivers think that blind spots exist because they were taught they exist when they were learning how to drive. Better information from licensing organizations would solve this problem.

Steve is right. There is no blind spot if the mirrors are properly adjusted. Ford (who owns Volvo in case you didn’t know) could have saved millions in research and development if instead of developing a camera that flashes a red light when ever a car is next to you instead they produced a small pamphlet on how to adjust the mirrors and distributed it to all their dealerships. The salespeople could be taught how to adjust mirrors and as they teach the buyer all the features of their new car help them adjust their mirrors. Problem solved for the cost of 2 minutes of a salesperson’s time.

Of course, if you still don’t believe me that blind spots are myths (I would love to come adjust your mirrors and prove you wrong and highly suggest you try the method mentioned in the article for yourself) I offer you the less expensive option to solve them. The two dollar blind spot mirror. Now go take that 700 you saved on your BLIS system and send it at on a quality driving school.

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Does green mean go?

Posted by lapearce on August 11, 2009

We’ve all heard this saying before… typically as we yell it at other drivers who don’t get on the gas when the light turns green fast enough. But does green really mean go? Sure it sounds nice with its alliteration and quick to the point wording, but it unfortunately is not accurate. While not as piffy or repeatable, green actually means look and proceed with caution.

Too often do I see people who hit the gas at a green light with their eyes focused straight ahead. What if someone was running that light? They wouldn’t know until after they were hit. About two years ago I witnessed a red light crash where the truck in front of me ran a very red light at an intersection for a very busy freeway off ramp. She was so late in entering the intersection that she hit the third and fourth car in the line. I honked, which was the only thing that prevented another car from being involved (the driver thanked me for warning her) but the two cars involved didn’t even see her coming. They felt the intersection was safe, after all, other cars had already passed through, who could run a light that late?

Actually, a lot of people do. The National Campaign to Stop Red Light Running claims that 900 people were killed in 2007 because someone ran a red light. How many of those crashes could have been avoided if instead of going when the light turned green people looked first? Of course, all of them could have been avoided if people actually paid attention, slowed down and stopped at red lights. But remember: you aren’t everyone on the road. Common sense to you isn’t common sense to everyone.

When I witnessed the red light crash the woman who ran the red started to stop, but then instead got on the gas. She hit the brakes again just before hitting the cars. Maybe she was drunk or on drugs. Maybe she saw the light at the next intersection and thought she had the green. Maybe she was just a bad driver. There are a lot of bad drivers out there. Never assume that other drivers will obey the laws. If you are hit by a red light runner they are at fault… but wouldn’t you rather see them first, stop, and not be involved in the crash in the first place?

Here is a compilation of red light crashes/close calls that I recently found. Some of them are comical (I did laugh when the two white Ford Explorers hit and one of them tipped over and the near miss at 3:12 is incredibly lucky) but others are frightening and very serious. You will notice just how red some of the lights are when the people run them. Crashes like these happen every day. To avoid being involved in a crash like this remember: green does not mean go, it means look and proceed with caution.

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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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ZoomSafer hopes to take distraction away from cell phones

Posted by lapearce on June 11, 2009

My bluetooth headset broke this week. I ordered myself a new Jawbone 2, the latest and greatest in hands free communication devices from Amazon. It’s being delivered as we speak, so for right now: no cell phone while I drive for me. Even with bluetooth, I don’t like talking in the car. Your brain still gives attention to the conversation, which means less attention is on the road.

Like a lot of people, though, I feel like I need to answer calls. It may be from work, or from home, and I don’t want that person calling me to think that I’m ignoring them. Many times the calls only take a second too, a quick little “I’m driving, can I call you back?” Many teens feel the need to respond to calls, texts, emails, facebook comments, etc as soon as possible. It goes back to brain development, where teens are more emotional than rational with their thoughts. So even with the number of cell phone bans in dozens of states in this country, teens are still talking, texting, tweeting and facebooking while they drive.

Well, ZoomSafer hopes to satisfy their need. Their free software, which will be out in beta format in roughly 45 days, will be a sort of personal assistant for your cell phone when you are in your car. Miachel Riemer, founder and CEO of ZoomSafer tells me that the software will, “prevent distracted driving but still allow users to stay connected with their friends, family and social networks.”

These are the features that the software will have:

  • Activates automatically when driving
  • Reminds you to drive safely (including reminders from friends, family, celebrities, etc)
  • Optionally inform friends, family, co-workers, and social networks when and where you’re driving (can also share your location)
  • Applies preferences to manage inbound communications (including the “out-of-office” replies we call auto-toots)
  • Suppresses unwanted alerts (SMS and emails still arrive you just don’t get alerted until you are done driving)
  • Provides a set of voice services so you can send/receive emails and text messages with your voice

Hopefully this program will help teens, and adults, drive with ease, knowing that their friends are being attended to with ZoomSafer.

You can register for the beta here. I am already signed up and will post my review after I’ve used the program.

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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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