Teen texting and driving: finding the fix

By Posted on Jan 03 2019 | By

State Farm Insurance seeks reduction in distracted driving

Fact #1: Distracted driving crashes are under-reported and the National Safety Council estimates cell phone use alone accounts for 27 percent of all car crashes.

Fact #2: The fatal crash rate for teens is three times greater than for drivers 20 years of age and older.

Fact #3: 88 percent of teenagers ages 13 to 17 have or have access to a cell phone.

Houston, we have a problem.

Generation after generation older folks have clucked and wagged fingers about the shortcomings of the upcoming generation of young folk.

From Elvis and his road to perdition called rock and roll to today’s millennials who are deemed not contributing to society’s well-being, it seems youth is always taking it on the chin from adult swings.

The latest discontent is the constant use of cell phones by teenagers. The charge may be accurate but it’s also one that could be leveled at many adults. There are over 7 billion cell phones worldwide feeding the addiction.

The omnipresent “device” has shown a startlingly capacity to make a person forget where they are. But once a user—especially a young one—slips behind the wheel of a vehicle, it becomes a life or death issue.

Technology itself is seeking fixes to the problem; one feature is to remind drivers they are driving before they can accept a message.

But another approach is to reach out to teens in an interactive way to show them how lethal the combination of wheels and cells can be. The approach might be characterized as, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”

State Farm initiative
Carmen Rivera manages the State Farm Insurance Company in Warrenton. She has worked for the insurer for over two decades assuming management of the local office last year. She has three full-time agents and two-part timers at her Warrenton Village Shopping Center office.

She is also the mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother. With a strong maternal instinct and a career in insurance, she observes, “You see things that you would hope you never see. One of them is children involved in distracted driving. It’s a huge responsibility to get behind the wheel of a car.”

To help counter the problem she took advantage of a program sponsored by State Farm to educate youthful drivers on the hazards of driving, with a strong emphasis on the misuse of cell phones. The effort includes both classroom instruction and simulated driving conditions.

She visits local high schools and speaks to driver education students on the responsibilities and dangers of driving. “One of my points is to get them to understand the horrific accidents that can occur from distracted driving.

“And they are not usually just fender benders. I also talk about how accidents and tickets can impact their insurance premiums. I emphasize the need to keep two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road at all times.”

More dramatically, however, is Rivera’s collaborative efforts with Virginia state police to simulate actual distracted driving conditions and its consequences. The program takes place at local high schools and involves the use of a four-seater golf cart that acts as a “vehicle” to create highway scenarios.

And less one thinks a golf cart is a golf cart, think again. The training vehicle—officially designated a Distracted Driver Simulator—is a tricked-out vehicle with doors that sport the colors and logo of a Virginia state police cruiser. A first-time reaction in seeing the little guy is likely, “Hey, that’s cool.”

“Liberty High was the first school where I actually performed the distracted driving course. We had over 150 students participate. We try to replicate on the road situations and tell the children, ‘this is what you are going to encounter’.”

The exercises take place in school parking lots lined with rubber cones to create a “road”. The cart is driven by a student with a police officer riding shotgun and two students sitting in the back seat. A series of real-time “tests” are then administered.

To make it fun and realistic, the students are told they can chat, tap fellow students on the shoulder, pretend they’re changing a radio station, and even text while driving. In other words, actions students often do while behind the wheel.

To further increase reality, on a section of the course drivers must choose to wear either daytime or nighttime goggles that impair vision and replicate driving under the influence or night time driving; many cones get knocked over.

Most dramatically, however, is when each student is told to text a friend while behind the wheel. “When they try to text and drive the “car”, even very slowly, they run over all of the cones. We emphasize that’s what happens in a controlled environment. In the real world, a split second can change everything.”

Rivera urges her students to stow phones in purses, glove compartments, or even in back seats so as not to be tempted to respond to incoming messages.

Weather permitting, the next on course training will take place in December at Kettle Run High School.

To date, Rivera has conducted three classroom sessions and one distracted driver session at local high schools. “I absolutely will continue the program in the years ahead as long as it’s beneficial to the students. I hope it helps the children and shows them driver responsibility.

“But a one-day classroom or driving session cannot fully prepare these children for real-life scenarios” so all efforts must be undertaken to combat the scourge of distracted driving.

Rivera showcases how one person can make a difference when passion and knowledge are brought to bear to solve a community problem.

For more information on her full community involvement, visit her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/WarrentonStateFarm/


Published in the January 3, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.