Monday, September 24, 2012

Tragic Distractions. . . .

Every once in awhile a series of thoughts and events simultaneously converge to prompt a sense of urgency. That's happened once again this morning. I went to breakfast thinking about some conversations I had last night after speaking to a group of parents in Allen, Texas. Many of them shared their deep concerns -some general and some specific - over technology's impact on their children and teens. During one of those conversations, I mentioned that technology's pervasive presence is adding to the problem of distracted driving, and that kids are especially prone to texting while driving. . . something that not only scares me while in my car headed down the highway, but when I'm out on my bike and someone blows past with one hand (maybe) on their steering wheel while their eyes and other hand are involved with their phone.

This morning, I went to breakfast at my hotel and read USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. The former featured an op-ed piece by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, "Time to put the brakes on texting and driving." I would question the wisdom of anyone who questions Genachowski's appeal to common sense. Then, I spent some time looking through The Wall Street Journal's "Innovations in Transportation" section that included this related headline: "Who's Behind the Wheel? Nobody. The driverless car is coming. And we all should be glad it is." That gladness is over the fact that no human driver at all is safer than a distracted human driver.

Then, this morning's convergence took an ugly turn. An email from home informed me that a young 19-year-old college student from our community was hit and killed while riding his bicycle yesterday in Kansas. The details that have been shared with me indicate that he was hit and killed by a teenage driver who was distracted. . . by what, I'm not sure.

These are the kinds of things we need to talk about with our kids. A Kansas teenager made a split-second decision yesterday. Again, I don't know what that decision was specifically. But that decision has far-reaching consequences that will effect many, many people for a long time. That decision ended a life, changed the life of a loving family, and has human fallout that reaches far beyond the 19-year-old victim and his circle of family and friends.

Today, I want to encourage you all to do everything in your power to address the issue of distracted driving - particularly texting while driving - with the kids you know and love. Youthworkers, raise the issue with parents and students. Parents, talk, talk, and talk some more with your kids. Teachers, take a moment to pass on some life-lessons to your students.

I went on to our CPYU Digital Kids Initiative site this morning to look over our downloadable handout on "Texting While Driving." Give it a look. Download it. Pass it around. The handout includes these alarming facts:

Cell Phones, Texting and Driving at a Glance:
  • More than 4 out of 5 teen drivers admit to using their cell phone while driving.
  • Research shows that hands-free cell phone use while driving is no less dangerous than using a hand-held phone. It's the conversation - not the type of device - that's the distraction.
  • Over half of all teen drivers admit to texting or emailing while driving. Teenage and young adult drivers are the age group most likely to send a text or read an email while driving.
  • Teens say that texting is the number one driving distraction.
  • Texting and driving is a form of distraction. Almost 80 percent of all vehicle crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some type of driver inattention or distraction during the three seconds before the crash or near-crash.
  • Talking on a cell phone while driving impairs drivers at a rate equal to a blood-alcohol level of 0.08.
  • The National Safety Council estimates that at least 200,000 crashes a year are caused by texting and driving.
  • Texting while driving results in 330,000 distracted driving injuries a year.
  • About 6,000 people a year die as a result of using their phone while driving.
When You Text and Drive:
  • You are four times more likely to cause an accident than when you drive drunk or talk on a cell phone.
  • You are 23 times more likely to crash.
  • You are taking your eyes off the road for an average of 5 seconds. At 55 miles per hour, that equals driving the length of a football field while wearing a blindfold.
  • Your response time diminishes greatly. The average time it takes a drunk driver to respond and apply the brakes is 4 times more than normal. The average time it takes a texting driver to respond and apply the brakes is 40 times more than normal. Still, most young drivers view texting and driving as less dangerous than drunk driving.
  • You risk injuring/killing yourself and others. It results in car crashes that kill an average of 11 teenagers a day.

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