As young drivers head back to school, a new Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) report explores the problem of teen distracted driving and highlights promising policies designed to address it. According to the most recent data, teens represent the largest proportion of drivers who are distracted at the time of a fatal crash. These crashes impact not only the distracted teen drivers, but also other roadway users: 57 percent of those killed were the teen drivers; the rest were their passengers, other vehicle occupants, pedestrians and bicyclists.
The report, Distracted & Dangerous: Helping States Keep Teens Focused on the Road, looks at legislation, enforcement and educational programs developed and implemented by the public and private sector at the national, state and local levels. Funded through a grant by State Farm®, the report was researched and written by nationally recognized teen safe driving expert, Pam Fischer, Principal of Pam Fischer Consulting.
“Teens have the highest crash risk of any age group, and research confirms that distraction is often a factor,” said GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins, who oversaw the development of the report. “Eliminating distraction caused by electronic devices and passengers, two of the main culprits for novice drivers, is essential, and back to school season is the perfect time to share this message.”
“When it comes to distracted driving, we are particularly concerned about young drivers,” said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. “Inexperience behind the wheel, combined with the many distractions teens encounter, can have serious consequences. State Farm is committed to research-based solutions for this issue. Programs like those outlined in this report, which encourage teens to be fully engaged in the task of driving, are a step in the right direction.”
Ensuring that teens recognize and eliminate deadly distractions when driving now and throughout adulthood is at the heart of the nearly two dozen state policy, enforcement and education initiatives featured in the report. Below are just a few examples:
- New York will soon have the nation’s toughest distracted driving penalties. Effective November 1, the penalty for those younger than 21 will be a 120-day license suspension for the first offense and one year for the second. The state complements its laws with aggressive enforcement, including utilizing unmarked, raised sport utility vehicles in a variety of colors that allow officers a better visual of drivers who are texting or engaging in other distracting behaviors.
- North Dakota invested federal distracted driving grant funds to provide law enforcement training in advance of a statewide high visibility enforcement initiative and media campaign conducted during the April 2014 observance of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The state is supporting this enforcement with creative messages that reach young drivers via Pandora, Hulu and other popular social media platforms.
- The state of Washington conducts a high school program where teens complete a series of tasks in an attempt to earn a $500 grant for the school group of their choice. Funded through State Farm, the program has prompted teen-led projects in more than 230 high schools, including flash mobs, legislative rallies and construction of Memory Walls to honor victims of distracted driving.
Other promising approaches include state-of-the-art simulators, a statewide summit, peer-to-peer campaigns, contests, phone apps, and grassroots advocacy. While most are adult-led, several were developed by teens who are serving as peer leaders in their communities.
One unexpected research finding is that not all teens are driving distracted. In fact, the youngest and most inexperienced drivers are less likely than any other age group – with the exception of drivers 60 and older – to use a cell phone behind the wheel.
As Adkins notes, “Many brand new teen drivers recognize passengers and portable electronics are distracting. But as they gain experience and become more confident in their driving skills, their attitudes about talking and texting while driving, as well as transporting passengers, changes.”
The featured programs were identified through a survey of State Highway Safety Offices (SHSOs) conducted by GHSA in March 2014. GHSA worked with a panel of teen driver experts to pinpoint the most promising projects.