Texting and driving has now surpassed drinking and driving as the leading cause of death among teenage drivers.
According to a recent study done by AT&T, 97 percent of teens surveyed are fully aware of the dangers of using a cell phone while driving, but 43 percent do it anyway.
Other statistics are just as sobering.
Three thousand young people will be killed in crashes this year due to texting and driving, according to the study, and 300,000 will be injured, some seriously, because of using a cell phone while driving.
Hillsboro Police Chief Darrin Goudy says it’s a serious problem not only locally, but all across Ohio.
“We see it a lot in town, particularly after school, especially when someone is at a green light too long with their head down, that’s a good indication they’re texting,” Goudy said.
The 2018-19 school year is about to begin and one of the things that should be on the minds of parents is insuring their teen won’t become another auto crash statistic.
It’s a different world than it was even five years ago when it comes to cellphone usage.
Today, more than 95 percent of teens own one or more cellphones. Estimates are that there are more than 5 billion cell phone users worldwide, which is two-thirds of the world’s population, the study said.
Cell phone usage has expanded into every activity in the culture, from emergencies to using them on the job or just checking with a spouse about what to buy at the grocery store.
It sometimes seems as if people have no idea what to do with a spare moment other than to be on their phone.
And that’s where the problem lies when it comes to teen drivers.
AAA spokesman Jim Garrity said its driver education program has taken a strong stand against texting and driving.
“We launched a campaign earlier this year to stigmatize texting and driving the same way we’ve done with drinking and driving,” he said.
The campaign is called “Don’t Drive Intoxicated. Don’t Drive Intexticated.”
“The school year is kicking back in,” Garrity said, “and the responsibility is on all of us to put our phones down and avoid intexticated driving.”
Highway safety experts estimate a teen will take his or her eyes off the road for about five seconds when using a cell phone. At 55 miles per hour they will travel the length of a football field in those same five seconds. If they’re on an expressway the distance traveled is longer and reaction time is shorter.
“Here we have a novice driver with little or no experience and their focus behind the wheel should be 100 percent on the road in front of them,” Goudy said.
There is also a 10 percent greater chance they will veer into another lane of traffic when on the phone.
That’s a head-on crash waiting to happen, and when you add failure to buckle the seat belt into the equation, there’s a 90 percent chance they won’t survive the crash, the study said.
“Kids think it’ll never happen to them, and we’ve had to bury a lot of those kids,” said a ,” a state patrol officer said who preferred to remain anonymous.
While all Ohio drivers under the age of 18 are banned from cell phone use in the car, texting and driving is prohibited for all Ohio drivers regardless of age. The only exception is when contacting law enforcement due to an emergency situation, and then the vehicle has to be off the road and in park.
Though Ohio’s cell phone law is considered a secondary offense for adult drivers (police have to pull you over for something else first), teens can be pulled over by a patrol officer even if suspected of being on the phone while driving.
“Absolutely,” Goudy said. “There will be strict enforcement of the law because the negative consequences of what could happen are too extreme.”
If convicted, the teen driver will face a $150 fine and the suspension of their permit or license for 60 days. A repeat juvenile traffic offender could get a $300 fine and face a one-year permit or license suspension.
Goudy said parents should have a conversation with their teen drivers, especially at this time of the year, to prevent them from being another statistic or paying a fine the family can’t afford.
“Tell them put on that seat belt,” he advised, “and that cell phone, put it down.”