Every day teens take their eyes off the road to tweet, text, snapchat, or post to the Internet. In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. According to NHTSA and the US Department of Transportation, drivers under the age of 20 made up 27 percent (about 850) of the distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes.
Social media isn’t going away soon, so educating younger drivers about the dangers of distracted driving is key to reducing deaths among them on our nation’s roadways. But looking at some of the messaging in social media, young drivers seem more inclined to make fun of bad driving behavior than correct it. On Instagram alone, more than 10,000 posts cite the hashtag #DistractedDriving, though not all of those are posted by young drivers. And that doesn’t take into account social media posts done behind the wheel without that hashtag.
Despite the evidence on Instagram, other teens have demonstrated an awareness that distracted driving is a problem. In a Liberty Mutual survey, teen drivers rated the following behaviors or activities as “extremely” or “very” distracting:
- Instant or text messaging while driving – 37%
- The teen driver’s emotional state – 20%
- Having several friends in the car – 19%
- Talking on a cell phone – 14%
- Eating or drinking – 7%
- Having a friend in the car – 5%
- Listening to music – 4%
Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published research by Emily Olsen in 2013 that attempts to explain the reason why teens text and drive. In her research, Olsen shows that teens often don’t see texting while driving as a safety hazard. She suggests this is “possibly because those who perceive greater emotional and social rewards associated with the behaviors are more likely to also perceive the benefits of these rewards outweigh the risks involved.” Could teens perceive that the rewards of posting to a social network site outweigh any safety concerns associated with distracted driving?
Educating young drivers about the dangers associated with distracted driving can help provide a more-informed context for making that decision to tweet, post, or text a friend. That’s what TDS seeks to improve teen driver behavior, is doing with its Zero Crazy! campaign in spring 2016.
Beginning January 18, TDS members will start noting incidents of distracted driving at their schools, then spend three weeks spreading the word about its dangers. Students will then conduct follow-up observations to gauge the effectiveness of their local, grassroots outreach by comparing the before and after number of distracted driving incidents. Similar activities in the past year in Texas high schools yielded a 12.2 percent reduction in observed drivers using a mobile device; adding the results from similar TDS initiatives in Nebraska, Minnesota, and Arkansas to the Texas data, observable distracted driving was reduced by 9.7 percent across all four states.
“Having peers educate each other is the cornerstone of TDS’s success,” says Russell Henk, TDS founder and program manager of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Youth Transportation Safety Program. “With Zero Crazy!, we’re hoping to help teen drivers understand that engaging with social media while driving is not cool—and very dangerous. This outreach element of TDS also helps them see that their efforts can truly make an impact and possibly save lives in their community.”
Emily O’Malley Olsen, Ruth A. Shults, Danice K. Eaton Pediatrics Jun 2013, 131 (6) e1708-e1715; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-3462 http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/6/e1708