Driving with distractions

People believe that they can make cell-phone use in the car safer by holding the device near the windshield to try to look at the phone and through the windshield at same time, or they may drive with more distance from the car ahead of them. Or they feel that while they wouldn’t write a text while driving it’s safe to read one that comes in while they’re en route.

What is the solution to this steadily growing problem that kills teens every day?

Staffers at the Times Herald-Record created a program in 2007 called Not One More to help prevent teen car wrecks due to distracted driving. They present forums and hold round tables at area high schools to discourage teens from driving while texting, tired, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or with too many people in the car. At a recent forum on May 21 were Kathy Sheehan, an educator/clinical coordinator from St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital, chief Todd Hazard of the Cornwall Police Department and a representative from Brooks Funeral Home. Not One More has also used donations to purchase driving simulators for Orange County schools.

Other communities hold mock staged accidents to show teens graphically — with plenty of fake blood — what inattention for a second can do. Students are urged to fill out pledge forms promising not to use the phone when driving, and to share alarming videos with their friends on Facebook and Twitter.

People can be persuaded to turn their phone off when they get in the car or to put it where they can’t get to it easily, in the glove compartment or back seat, and to encourage drivers to do so when they are the passenger.

Beyond education is legislation. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2009 prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on government business or with government equipment. The following year the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enacted a ban that prohibits commercial vehicle drivers from texting while driving. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation can’t make distracted driving by private citizens illegal. Doing so is up to the individual states, which have varying laws. While in New York both handheld phone calls and texting in a moving vehicle are forbidden, many other states only illegalize one or the other, or neither.

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws are not national but exist in every state, helping teens gradually gain driving experience before letting them do certain things. In New York, teens can’t get learner’s permits until age 16, and can’t apply for a license until they are 16 and a half and have logged 50 hours of supervised driving, including 15 at night. Then there are restrictions on nighttime driving and number of passengers until the teen is 17 or 18.

Other proposed solutions to the distracted driving problem — which is certainly not limited to teens — include making penalties for handheld cell phone use and texting more severe, requiring cell phone manufacturers to include hands-free kits with phones, displaying phone messages on car windshields or completely blocking cell signals in car interiors.

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