Teens Distracted?

As if teenagers don't have enough to distract them, what with food, music, grooming and, oh, yes, the opposite sex, now they have the cellular telephone as well. Sadly, teenagers don't have a very good record of staying focused -- just ask any high school teacher -- so getting them to stay focused behind the wheel is a daunting task.

Recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research shows that teen drivers are four times more likely to be involved in a distraction-related collision than any other age group. In addition, a recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study demonstrated that drivers under the age of 20 are most susceptible to driving distractions.

Unfortunately, many teen drivers don't understand the dangers of driving while distracted. While most new drivers today can describe the dangers of speeding or driving drunk, few comprehend the one contributing factor that causes the most collisions: driver distractions. A recent NHTSA research study shows that driver distractions contribute to one in four automobile collisions. Further, traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 20.

Clearly, distracted driving is a danger to teens, and the increasing prevalence of cell phones is not making it any better. To help address this problem Cingular Wireless, using technical assistance provided by the NHTSA, created "Be Sensible: Don't drive yourself to distraction, a teen driving program including a video, detailed educator's guide, educational wall poster and classroom activities to help teenage students overcome driver distraction." In putting the program together, Cingular sought the counsel of the nation's top driver education advisors including NHTSA, the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA) and the Driving School Association of the Americas (DSAA). Recently, Maryland became the first state to adopt the program for sanctioned use. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration will distribute Cingular's driving curriculum to its Rookie Driver driving school owners and instructors.

In the short (9-minute) video, teens are warned about everyday distractions like eating, talking with friends, applying makeup, adjusting the radio, and, of course, speaking on a cell phone. Without preaching, the video suggests that teen drivers drive safely and responsibly, while helping them eliminate or manage distractions by giving common-sense advice such as letting a cell phone call go to voice mail or asking a passenger to change the radio station. The video even warns teenagers about the possible distractions that can be caused by children or pets. It also discusses out-of-the-car distractions, including friends in other vehicles, billboards and hotties walking down the street.

The "Be Sensible: Don't drive yourself to distraction" program is designed for high school students in health, safety and driver's education classes. All program materials are currently available for delivery to teachers at no charge by Cingular Wireless through the Video Placement Worldwide (VPW) Web site. It's something your kids' teachers might want to learn about.

Jack R. Nerad is the managing editor of Driving Today and the father of three daughters who are already in love with cellular telephones.