According to the Centers for Disease Control, nine people die every single day because of a distracted driver. While distracted driving encompasses any action that takes a driver’s eyes off the road, cell phones—especially smartphones—have contributed to the rise of distractions and to texting driving deaths.
For teens, owning a smartphone is a rite of passage; Pew Research Center reports that “95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone.” And smartphone ownership for young adults ages 18 to 29 also proves that these devices are the new norm—only six percent of young adults don’t own a smartphone.
Smartphone ownership statistics showcase the prominence of these devices, but what they also illustrate is the focal need for connectivity in our lives. Almost every teen has a smartphone, and this allows for constant and instant access to their social world; information and even entertainment is merely a tap away, and built in cameras snap memories that serve to document every action or inaction. Today’s teens have grown up with technology, and the digital world has become a necessity and a given. Phones and devices follow everywhere, and, unfortunately, their presence even has taken a front seat in the car.
So while distractions behind the wheel can be attributed to any action that displaces the importance of controlling the vehicle, the presence of smartphones has contributed greatly to the number of texting and driving deaths (and other fatalities), as well as injuries and crashes on the road. Smartphones are deadly when used behind the wheel, and, for new drivers, their lure is even more worrisome. For a generation of teens who have never known a world without the internet, texting or social media, loosening the grip of the device that holds so much relevance over their lives amounts to digital detox.
Most teens have no true understanding about their digital dependency. Many assume they can multitask while driving, send a text quickly, surf the internet for an address or just answer a call. Repercussions are an afterthought, but those quick seconds can change everything. For teens who fail to grasp the dire circumstances of cradling the phone behind the wheel, here are real life stories and statistics that show the horrors, devastation and ramifications of the smartphone distraction and the macabre prevalence of texting and driving deaths:
- A 17-year-old from Alabaster, Ala. died in a highway crash in February 2018. According to reports, the driver collided into a trailer on a local highway. The local coroner said that texting played a role.
- In Minnesota, a 17-year-old driver killed a father and his 10-year-old daughter when the driver ran a red light because she was allegedly texting. The teen was sentenced to four years’ probation and more than 200 hours of community service. However, if she breaks the terms of her probation, she could serve prison time.
- In 2013, Newsday reported that texting and driving was now the number one killer of teen drivers on the road. The article cites statistics from Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park that an estimated 3,000 teens die each year because of distracted driving related to texting.
- A 19-year-old Kansas State University student died because of one letter: “k.” The message was not sent but it allegedly preceded the crash that caused her death. The recipient of the message was the driver’s sister who now helps educate teens about the dangers of texting and driving.
- A teen in Washington died after she allegedly was distracted by an incoming text while driving. Her car drove under the wheels of a logging truck. The teen’s mother now helps teens understand the dangers of driving distracted and uses a video that recreates her daughter’s crash to illustrate the horror of what those distractions may cause on the road.
- A driver who allegedly was texting behind the wheel hit seven-year-old Xzavier Davis-Bilbo, dragging him nearly 20 feet in the process. The crash paralyzed Davis-Bilbo, and he spent four and a half months in the intensive care unit. He will never walk again.
In response to the rising injury and death toll across the country, states are cracking down on distracted driving and some are trying to enforce stricter standards on the road for newly licensed teens. But some reports show that while the laws may try to tighten the reins on the digital lure, the impact on teens is minimal. A study conducted by Nationwide Children’s Hospital revealed that laws banning texting did little to discourage teens but “teen drivers reported 55% fewer hand-held phone conversations when universal hand-held calling bans were in place compared to state with no bans.”
Not all states have implemented universal cell phone bans while driving despite the growing trend of distracted driving crashes. However, parents can still implement their own rules when it comes to a teen’s driving privileges. Cutting off the lure of distraction allows teens to focus on the road instead of obsessing over their phone. Apple’s iOS11 includes the “Do Not Disturb While Driving” function that disables the phone while the driver is mobile. Focus by TeenDrive is the latest technology to help parents teach teens safe driving behavior.
Discouraging and preventing teens from using their phones behind the wheel requires education about the risks of distraction while also engaging in an honest dialogue about rules of the family and the road. Use the above stories to help teens understand the result of a one second distraction, and then enforce your own family guidelines on smartphone use. Driving and smartphone ownership are privileges that can be revoked, and teens must know that all privileges require responsible choices.