How can you, individually, take action against driving?

Written by Jacqueline Jobin, Harini Senthilkumar, and Devna Panda

Getting behind the wheel in and of itself can be an incredibly intimidating task for inexperienced drivers. There is a seemingly endless list of guidelines for safe driving that constantly run through novices’ minds, and the list must continue to do so even after they become comfortable with driving. 

 

As if those regulations weren’t enough to keep track of, driver distraction accounts for more than 58% of teen crashes in the United States. In a study conducted by the Journal of Adolescent Health, nearly 40% of the 101,000 teenagers surveyed had admitted to messaging or e-mailing while driving in the last 30 days. This problem doesn’t go away as you become an experienced driver. Over 84% of drivers (including older drivers) recognize the danger from cell phone distractions and find it “unacceptable” that drivers message/call while on the road, yet 36% of these same people admit to having read or sent a text during their drives. 

 

Fortunately, these startling percentages are 100% preventable – it’s up to you to take action.

 

Young drivers in particular frequently succumb to the dangers of peer pressure. Teenagers 

influence each other in numerous ways, and distracted driving is not an exception. However, the multidimensionality of peer pressure is often overlooked. Teens can channel the impact they have on their peers into responsible driving practices, and educate friends about the significance of safe driving.  An effective method to prevent teenagers riding in a car together from distracting the teen driver is keeping a ‘phone stack’ in the car, so that devices stray from the driver’s thoughts. The youth of this generation have a remarkable amount of power, and one friend at a time, they can change the world. 

 

Distracted driving has several forms, yet not all are uniformly impairing. University of Utah psychologist, David Strayer, describes how any sort of distracted driving that “generates speech”, like talking on the phone or texting, is considered to be one of the most dangerous. Therefore, effective action steps to be taken against distracted driving are to disable, store away, or shut down any electronic devices while in a motorized vehicle. 

 

For some drivers stowing away or shutting down devices for every ride may not be a realistic goal. Thankfully, there are several applications that can be easily downloaded to users’ phones including Drivemode and LifeSaver that disable all calls, emails, and web searching while on the road. These applications also notify friends and family who send messages to them that they are driving. It is also important that drivers are held accountable by the passengers in their car. Speak up to your driver if they are distracted because all lives in the vehicle are at risk.

 

Liz Marks, a Maryland teenager, recalls her attitude before she drove distracted and crashed, “I ignored those warnings about texting while driving because everyone else was doing it. So I thought it was okay. I thought I was invincible, but clearly, I was completely wrong.” Liz sent the simple text of “OK” a split second before a crash which left her hearing impaired, partially blind, and unable to smell.

 

While targeting cell phone usage during driving is a central focus of advocacy against distracted driving, there are other activities that drivers engage in that significantly impair their judgement while driving. For instance, many drivers mistakenly make the choice to drive when experiencing fatigue. According to a government study, this is a prevalent issue in America: “37% of U.S. drivers have nodded off or actually fallen asleep at least once during their driving career” (GEICO). 

 

Drowsy driving can slow a driver’s reaction time and weaken their judgement while on the road. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that drowsy driving caused 72,000 crashes and 800 deaths in 2013. In order to recognize the onset of drowsy driving, it is important to be aware of the signs, which include yawning habitually or being unable to stay in one’s lane. As drivers, we must actively search for these signs of drowsy driving in ourselves and those who accompany us to ultimately work towards extinguishing the distracted driving epidemic. If you do find yourself feeling drowsy on the road, you can combat this distraction by pulling over to take a nap, drink caffeine, listen to loud music, or even open a window while driving. All of these options will increase alertness and ensure that you can employ your best judgement when on the road. 

 

While becoming aware of these issues and their substantial implications is the first step to achieving change, true reform can only be accomplished through a commitment to attentiveness and mindfulness on the road. We will only be able to reverse the dire reality of distracted driving when every driver on the road understands the responsibility they have to themselves and their fellow drivers. 

 

Sources: 

 

  1. Devitt, Michael. “Survey Finds One in Three U.S. Teens Texts While Driving.” AAFP Home, 28 Sept. 2018, www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20180928textndrive.html.
  2. “Drowsy Driving: Asleep at the Wheel.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2019, www.cdc.gov/features/dsdrowsydriving/index.html.
  3. Health, Office of Adolescent. “Peer Pressure.” HHS.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Mar. 2019, www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/healthy-friendships/peer-pressure/index.html.
  4. “Learn the Facts About Distracted Driving.” EndDD, www.enddd.org/the-facts-about-distracted-driving/.
  5. Matthew.lynberg.ctr@dot.gov. “Distracted Driving.” NHTSA, 1 Apr. 2020, www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/distracted-driving.
  6. Shibboleth Authentication Request, library.cqpress.com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2012050400
  7. “Tips to Avoid Distracted Driving.” GEICO, www.geico.com/information/safety/auto/teendriving/distracted-driving/.