Stay alive: don’t drink or text and drive.
It’s an old message with a 21st century twist, and with chilling statistics about the consequences of distracted driving, awareness efforts that have traditionally been focused on drunk driving are now being steered toward this new issue.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the use of a cell phone while driving equates to having a .08 blood alcohol content, and some studies suggest texting “LOL” behind the wheel may be more a threat than a bottle. After all, a road seen through beer goggles is still visible—which can’t be said when someone is looking at their phone and typing a text message.
The U.S. Department of Transportation defines distracted driving in three respects: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (taking your mind off what you’re doing)—texting, of course, entails all three.
“We realize that it’s no longer only about drunk driving,” said Kiri Ryan, a social worker at John Jay High School.
She added that the topic was already being addressed in 10th grade health classes, and that driver’s education courses are having an impact in addressing distracted driving.
While no formal school-wide distracted driving prevention program is currently in place, she said administrators were actively exploring options for 2011-2012 and swapping notes with other area institutions to see how they tackle the issue.
“We actually just put up our ‘crash car’ courtesy of Sal’s Repair Shop and will be putting up our ‘Stop DWI’ sign in front to remind students about the dangers of drunk driving before prom,” Ryan remarked. “Maybe it should also say, ‘...and don’t text, talk on the phone or have too many people in your car.’”
Students at The Harvey School in Katonah also were exposed to the issue in health classes.
“We went over it and watched a video in Ms. Gambino’s health class,” said Rachel, a senior at the school. “I always make a conscious effort not to text and drive, and I think it’s just as dangerous as drunk driving.”
Though several area schools are discussing distracted driving, many young people are increasingly involved in these kinds of accidents. Some parents can’t help but be left with a lingering question: are the schools’ efforts enough?
“I know the school covers it in driver’s ed, but I think the schools should be doing actual assemblies and taking more direct initiatives,” said Cyndi Lucadamo of Lewisboro, who knows the dangers of distracted driving all too well after being involved in an accident recently in Bedford Hills caused by a young distracted driver.
“She was coming out of the parking lot over by the tanning salon, getting all ready for prom, and in her distraction went for the gas when she meant to hit the brakes,” Lucadamo said.
Her daughter Chrissy, a junior at Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, felt the topic was tackled adequately enough among her peer group.
“If you get your license, you’re taking the five-hour course or driver’s ed[ucation course]—and when I took the five-hour course, we must have spent 45 minutes discussing how distractions from driving are as bad as driving drunk. We watched a video where a man checking his phone GPS for directions swerved and killed a woman and her baby.
“Seeing how it can effect people was really, really sad.”