MAGAZINE: Reckless Texting

From The Bark magazine, Spring 2012 Cell phone use while driving is a dangerous distraction, but the temptation to text proves too strong for some. It takes just a split-second – the moment between hitting send and the sound of crunching metal when bumper meets bumper. We have all at least attempted it before. The classic situation of trying to send a text message while idling at the stop­light; the most anxious moments of a teenager’s driving career. The light turns green right as the last few words are be­ing typed out, so what would it hurt to finish up the sentence as the traffic slowly accelerates forward? Only the driver in front of you just spilled a bit of his Grande Mocha on his pants in his effort to change the radio station blaring from his speak­ers. In one moment of perfect clarity, a glance up from the “lol” be­ing typed in response to a witty text, a young driver’s perfect record can be shattered with a jolting collision. From the moment a teenager is handed that official looking plastic card giving them the right to take to the roads, the lectures begin to pour in from every direc­tion. Parents, teachers, even concerned friends all point out at one time or another how danger­ous attempting to text and drive is. All these speeches have one thing in common – do not text while driving, no matter what the situation may be. “I remember hearing all the time when I started driving and also at driv­ing school, ‘Don’t get behind the wheel and begin texting’,” Bearden senior Beth Ann Strip­ling says. “Now it’s just a natural response to think of that warning when I want to text.” It’s Driving School 101 Of the many driver ed­ucation programs offered throughout Knoxville, Drive-Rite Driving School is a 32-hour program that focuses on all the basics of driving. Attending this program is almost a tradition for Bearden students, increasingly so after the Drivers Educa­tion program was taken out of Bearden’s course catalogue. Drive-Rite instruc­tor and office manager Marsha LaFollette enjoys every one of her Bearden teens, but she is not blind to the fact that every day these young drivers are tempted to text behind the wheel. Along with offering videos and notes about the illegality of driving while under the influ­ence of drugs or alcohol, LaFollette tries to place the same emphasis ondriving while under the influence of a text con­versation. “It is against the law for anyone under 18 who is driving to even talk on a cell phone while driving and it is against the law in Tennessee for anyone to text while driving,” La­Follette says. “The prob­lem is that police officers cannot be everywhere at once. “Often drivers get away with it – until something bad happens and then it’s too late.” Parental Involvement Drive-Rite also asks that parents actively monitor whether or not their teen is texting while driving; with the scope of technology today an app can be installed to block all messages when the youth is on the road. Also, parents can invest in one of many types of technology that install in the car itself, not only in the cell phone. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administra­tion (NHTSA) has paired with Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Attorneys General across the country in an effort to spread the attitude toward texting while driving that Drive-Rite and other Knox­ville driver education programs have, that no driver should text and drive, period. The NHTSA released a statistic stating that distracted driving is the number one killer of American teens today, and a study by the Vir­ginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) reports that a texting driver is 23 times more likely to get into a crash than a non-texting driver. The Ad Council is another pro­gram getting involved in warning against texting. “Research has shown that using a cell phone delays a driver’s reac­tions as much as having a blood alcohol concen­tration at the legal limit of .08 percent,” CEO of the Ad Council Peggy Conlen says. “Through our Texting and Driving Prevention campaign, we are working towards eradicating the mindset among young adults that texting and driving is a safe activity.” Tough to Resist Bearden senior Del­aney Thomas and other students admit to being guilty of sending a few texts every so often at a stoplight, and then quickly remembering why even a quick texting attempt can be a scary experience. “Teenagers like to think they know everything,” Thomas says. “So they think they can text and drive, but you sway to one side or another al­most immediately.” Most Bearden drivers however, have a trick or two for keeping their minds focused on driv­ing. These techniques range from simply set­ting the phone to silent and storing it out of easy reach in the car to subdue any temptation to text to completely turning their cell phone off before starting the engine. Junior Alex Koza de­cides to actively place her attention elsewhere to more easily pay at­tention to the basics of staying safe behind the wheel. Having a mental checklist upon entering a vehicle can keep a young driver focused. “When I get in the car I buckle up, silence all of my message settings, and set my Pandora channel on shuffle,” Koza says. “That way, I am too busy singing along to care who is texting me.” The American Automo­bile Association or AAA has a whole page on its website dedicated to various ways to avoid be­ing distracted and there­fore in danger of hurting yourself or others. AAA recommends having a passenger handle anything that could be distracting. Also, various studies have proven that there is simply no such thing as the ability to “multi-task”, so it is essentially impossible for teenagers to both text and drive. If that means allowing a friend to text a signifi­cant other or parent, is that not better than call­ing from the hospital or never again? Not Worth the Risk Perhaps high school students have been lectured too much on this topic, so that they no longer listen. Maybe the undeniable willingness to rebel has all young drivers believing they are immortal enough to send a text while barrel­ing down Kingston Pike. Hopefully, Bearden stu­dents will get the picture soon enough about how dangerous texting can be. Is a young life worth that “lol” or that tweet? All that is needed is a pause in texting friends or a tweet before getting in the car saying “#driv­ing #textmeinafew”. With that precaution, no one has to lose any Starbucks coffee, hundreds of dol­lars in repairs, or even a life. Maya Rioux is a staff writer for The Bark. Follow The Bark on Twitter @BeardenBARK, and like The Bark (Bearden High School) on Facebook.