Does your teen text and drive? Do his or her friends?
According to a survey from AT&T:
- 75 percent of teens surveyed say that texting while driving is "common" among their friends;
- Almost all teens (89 percent) expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less;
- And 77 percent of teens report seeing their parents text while driving.
Educators are starting to target distracted driving—including texting and driving—just like drinking and driving in their safety messages to local students.
The problem, they say, is that many students don't connect texting and driving as a dangerous combination.
“They think it’s so innocent, they don’t see it as they’re making a destructive decision,” said Nicole Schingeck, a counselor at Hartland High School. “They don’t understand the consequences, they don’t see the connection there yet.
It Can Wait
A new campaign from AT&T is hoping to change that mentality and highlight the dangers of texting and driving. The It Can Wait program, which launched in September, encourages drivers to take the pledge, promising to not text and drive.
Many schools in the area are teaming up with AT&T, including Hartland and the school’s SADD group, and promoting the campaign to students and their parents.
Schingeck is also the adviser for Hartland SADD group, formerly known as Students Against Drunk Driving but now called Students Against Destructive Decisions. She says some students were surprised that texting was going to be a focus for the group that historically deals with alcohol and drugs. “I really don’t think the kids see (texting and driving) as having much of an impact" before they learn the facts, she said.
According to Hartland junior Ryan Clogg, even though 80 percent of his peers know that texting and driving is wrong, many still do it.
“It’s not that their carrying on a full conversation, but they will send out short answers while their driving,” he said. “It’s the little ones that are the problem.”
Chelsea High School Principal Michael Kapolka said the school tries to target students during their junior and senior years, but said he would like to reach out to younger students as well.
"We hold breakout groups during our senior seminar event in October. The Chelsea Police and Michigan State Police come into the high school and talk about drinking and driving and texting," Kapolka said.
In May, the school invites the Chelsea Area Fire Authority to stage a mock crash scene for students to interact with prior to going to the prom.
"It's a pretty impactful project," he said.
Using such a reality-based approach and sending those “powerful” messages is how driving instructor Joe Burch from the Focus Driving Academy says he also tried to relay the dangers of texting and driving.
“To get teenagers to stop, it has to be more than just don’t do it,” Burch said. “It has to be don’t do it because you don’t realize how many people you’re going to hurt."
A former mortician, Burch says he begs and pleads with the young drivers, telling stories of parents who have lost their children.
“I try to take the approach when your texting, it’s not so much I could get in an accident, but if something happened to me, it would really destroy my family,” he said.
Kapolka said one of the high school staff goals this year is to increase safety for students, which he says includes promoting a "no texting and driving message."
"We haven't looked into the AT&T partnership, but that's something we may consider," he said.
AT&T is also now offering a Drive-mode app which sends an automatic “I’m in the car driving” message to a user's top five contacts.
For some students, however, the automated simple message may not be enough to satisfy his peers and may only provoke a phone call or more texts. Having a more controlled app on the phone may be part of solution, according to Ryan. He said AT&T's TV commercial messages are having some effect, as well.
“Those commercials they have are rough,” Ryan said. “All over Twitter, the texting and driving commercials, people are always talking about how horrible they are, how sad they are, cause they are. Those connect.”
Resources for parents, schools and teens
- AT&T has a kit students can download and share with their schoolmates to start an anti-texting and driving campaign. There are also school-specific programs and resources. Their It Can Wait website also has videos and other downloads to teach teens about the dangers, as well as a texting and driving simulator.
- The nonprofit Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan has a program they've developed to teach students about distracted driving. The centerpiece is "Remember Ally," which includes posters and a moving video about a local teen who recently died in a distracted diving crash. For more information, please contact TIA's Executive Director, Jim Santilli, at 248-334-4971 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The national SADD website has lots of resources to help talk to teens about the dangers of distracted driving, including cell phone use behind the wheel.
- Detroit Area Honda Dealers, along with the Children's Hospital Foundation of Michigan, have just started a "Think Before You Text" campaign, and their website includes an online pledge to stop texting and driving.