Photo: Intel Free Press
Glenn Hatfield, driving instructor for AA Indiana Driving School, doesn’t look nervous riding beside a new driver as she takes the wheel for one of her first driving lessons. Perhaps it’s because Hatfield’s been doing this for more than 50 years.
“The most dangerous time of a teenager’s career is 16-26. It’s dangerous because that’s when they’re driving and learning to drive,” Hatfield says.
Hatfield wants his students to stay safe. That’s why he teaches them to devote 100 percent of their attention just to driving when they get behind the wheel.
“It’s a new adventure. And if you add the distraction of texting while you do that it diverts attention away from learning to drive,” Hatfield says. “It’s very very dangerous.”
More Teens Text And Drive Than Smoke
A decreasing number of teens are using drugs, drinking alcohol, having sex and smoking, but the annual CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey released this month shows 41.4 percent of students who took the survey reported texting or emailing behind the wheel–despite horrific stories of fatal accidents, awareness campaigns that show graphic images on billboards and commercials and the potential for fines if caught.
This was the first time, the Youth Risk Behavior survey asked teens about texting while driving.
“I’ve heard in some studies that texting while driving is just as dangerous or more dangerous than drinking alcohol,” Sgt. Curt Durnil, the Indiana State Police’s Bloomington district spokesman, says. “One you lose your reflex time, the other you take your eyes completely off the roadway. It’s a balance there, which is more dangerous? I say both of them.”
It’s illegal to text and drive in Indiana. Police wrote 52 tickets the first year the law went on the books in 2011. In 2012 that number reached 216 and last year it was just shy of 200 at 186.
Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute hopes that the increasing problem of texting while driving will be recognized.
“This really is a high number,” Stanczykiewicz says. “That’s the first thing we need to get the word out about. Nearly half the kids are texting while driving, 41 percent. And if you compare that to a behavior that gets a lot of headlines, smoking, only 16 percent of kids admit to smoking. Now that’s still 16 percent too much, but if you look at it, the texting rate is more than double, almost triple the smoking rate. So while smoking gets a lot of attention at 16 percent, how much more concerned should we be when texting is a 41 percent.”
The survey shows smoking is at an all-time low – 15.7 percent of teens reported smoking a cigarette at least once in the past month–down from an all-time high of 36.4 percent in 1997. Teen pregnancy is also declining dramatically.
“These are things 20-30 years ago that were thought to be intractable, that is was too late, that there was no way we could get these numbers to come down. And yet they have come down, because parents have spoken and modeled,” Stanczykiewicz says. “Because society has sent messages. It has happened in those other areas of youth behavior, it can happen in this one if we follow the same strategies.”
Delaney Coles, a Columbus driver’s ed student, lost a classmate in a car accident and texting was considered to likely be a factor. She says when she gets her license at the end of the month, she’ll keep her phone in the backseat of the car or in the trunk.
“I think people need to know it’s dangerous and it can wait,” Colesea says. “Any texts you have it can wait. If not, you can find somewhere to pull over and all your parents or whatever you need to do. Don’t do it while driving.”