Ditching distractions: Teenagers asked to put focus on driving

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

ATLANTA -- A national campaign is encouraging teens and their families to focus on safe driving this week -- and all of the time.

This week is National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Teen Drive Safety Week, aimed to prevent motor vehicle-related deaths and injuries among teen drivers by bringing awareness to increasing seat belt use, implementing graduated driver licensing, reducing teens' access to alcohol and increasing parental responsibility.

Young drivers, ages 15- to 20 years old, are especially vulnerable to death and injury on roadways -- traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America, according to the NHTSA.

The Georgia Department of Driver Services is especially focused on bringing attention to driver distraction, which is the leading case of crashes for teens.

"Buckling up is the first safety step, but please be mindful of distractions inside your vehicle including your passengers' behavior, adjusting the radio and eating," said DDS Commissioner Gregory C. Dozier.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation's NHTSA, several activities have been found to be distracting for drivers, especially teens. Reaching for a moving object increases crash risk by nine times; looking at an object outside the vehicle increases crash risk by nearly four times; reading increases crash risk by three times; and grooming or applying makeup increases crash risk by three times.

Rockdale County Public Schools' driver education instructor Charlie Bryant said parent involvement can help too -- the more practice, the better the driver.

"Teens who drive the least during their formative years are the most at risk for injury or death, he said. "Teens whose parents do not insist on seat belt use, obedience to the traffic laws and the state occupancy laws are most at risk for injury or death. ... A safe, low risk, defensive driving attitude by the teen is the best prevention to potential injury or harm."

He said that the state requires a minimum of 40 hours, but he encourages parents to give teens at least 100 hours of practice and in all types of traffic and weather conditions.

"Even without formal driver education, teens need way, way more practice hours of driving than the state requires," he said.

The DDS said that Georgia has established several mechanisms to support safe teen driving, including passenger restrictions for newly licensed drivers.

For the initial six-month period immediately following the issuance of a Class D license, teens may only transport immediate family members. During the second six-month period, a Class D license holder can only transport one passenger under age 21 who is not a member of the driver's immediate family. After the second six-month period, any Class D license holder can not transport more than three other passengers in the vehicle who are not members of the driver's immediate family who are less than 21 years of age.

Additionally, the Georgia Legislature recently passed new teen cell phone legislation which forbids any teen operating a motor vehicle from any cell phone use, including texting, which also is prohibited by any age drivers.

The DDS encourages teens to take a practice road rules test at www.dds.ga.gov and view the most recent version of the Georgia Driver's Manual. Teens also must pass a state-mandated alcohol and drug awareness program to address the danger of drinking and using drugs while driving, which also is accessed on its Web site with other driver training information.