Distracted driving is one of the deadliest driver mistakes. Failing to pay adequate attention to the road makes it almost impossible for a driver to react to changing roadway conditions or situations in time to prevent a collision. In 2016, distracted drivers contributed to the deaths of 3,450 people across the country.
About 9% of teens between the ages of 15 and 19 involved in fatal collisions in 2016 were distracted. This is the largest age group involved in fatal distracted driving crashes. The greatest form of teen driver distraction is cell phone use. On October 22, 2018, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) issued a press release detailing its plan to address this significant problem in the Golden State.
The CHP press release begins by citing car accidents as the number one killer of teens in the U.S. It then goes on to say distracted driving is often the cause, and announces the CHP’s upcoming year-long partnership with Impact Teen Drivers (ITD) to eliminate teen distracted driving. Impact Teen Drivers is the country’s leading advocate against reckless and distracted driving. ITD’s mission is to implement nationwide education – complete with online materials and training – that will empower drivers to make meaningful changes to their driving behaviors.
In partnering with ITD, the CHP hopes to spread awareness of the dangers of teen distracted driving and prevent collisions in California. Starting October 1, 2018, the CHP and ITD will work together for the next 12 months to host school and community events that target teen drivers. Driving the program is the Teen Distracted Drivers Education and Enforcement grant, which includes both education and enforcement plans. The main message of the program according to the CHP will be, “Focus on the road ahead and get where you are going safely.”
The commissioner of the CHP, Warren Stanley, says the goal of the partnership is to protect young drivers through education; namely, education on the high risk of using electronic devices, having passengers in the car, adjusting vehicle controls, and engaging in other forms of distraction while driving. He hopes that high-risk teen drivers will realize the immense dangers of these activities and rethink their driving behaviors after participating in the education program over the next year.
Cell phone use behind the wheel will be a major topic of conversation during the school and community awareness events in California. The rates of handheld cell phone use are highest among drivers 15 to 29 years old, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Handheld cell phones are particularly dangerous distractions because they divert three things away from the road: a driver’s eyes, hands, and mind. No other type of driver distraction is as all-consuming of a driver’s attention.
Talking, texting, emailing, videoing, and performing other tasks on a handheld cell phone while driving is illegal for all drivers in California. Drivers under the age of 18 may not use hands-free cell phones while driving. The only exception is to make emergency phone calls. Despite these cell phone laws, thousands of drivers illegally use their cell phones behind the wheel every day. This makes the CHP believe enforcement alone isn’t enough to change driver behaviors. A combination of education and enforcement may be the key to reducing distracted teen driving.
ITD’s Executive Director, Dr. Kelly Browning, says the organization is “privileged to work with the CHP” in the effort to stop preventable teen car accidents. He believes the strong emphasis on both education and enforcement in the coming year will have the power to change the driving culture. Ideally, the state of California will see a decrease in teen distracted driving accidents and deaths following the completion of the year-long program.