The Times West Virginian

Local News

June 29, 2014

Teen drivers more likely to be distracted

Parents should issue ‘good rules to follow’

FAIRMONT — Teen drivers have many distractions around them.

According to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control, 41 percent of teens admitted to texting behind the wheel during the month prior to the survey. The survey was given to 13,000 United States high school students.

Georgia Hatfield, regional program director for Region 5 of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, said teenagers are more likely to be distracted while driving.

“An issue is teens tend to be more preoccupied with a lot of things while they’re driving,” she said.

According to Hatfield, teens can be distracted by cellphones, the radio, other people in the car, putting on make up, eating or drinking.

Speeding is another danger associated with driving.

“When teens or anybody are speeding, that increases their chances of crashing when they’re passing (other cars) over the speed limit anywhere, whether its in a neighborhood or on the interstate,” Hatfield said.

Hatfield said driving drowsy can also be dangerous. Drowsy driving can occur after school or work and increases your odds of wrecking up to four times.

“One thing that is often ignored is how close you come to the car in front of you,” Hatfield said.

The driver would have less time to react to the vehicle in front of them stopping if following too closely.

Hatfield said drivers should should try to use a four- or five-second estimate for how long it takes them to react to a situation on the road.

Hatfield said that young drivers can learn habits from their parents.

“I would tell them, basically, if they’re the ones training them and teaching them to drive, to start out with good rules to follow,” Hatfield said.

Parent Michelle Bright has two daughters, one with a learner’s permit and the other with a license. Bright said she taught her daughters safe driving habits though she did worry about a few potential distractions such as other friends in the car, a text or phone call, or changing the radio station.

“I make them text me everywhere, anywhere they are going. They have to text me when they get there,” Bright said.

Bright’s daughter, Cortney, began driving three years ago.

“(My mother) would always tell me to keep my seat belt on, watch the road, don’t use my cellphone, beware of others and go slow,” Cortney Bright said.

Cortney said she and others in the vehicle with her have a solution to handle text messages. Whoever is driving will give their cell hone to a passenger.

If Cortney is by herself while driving and receives a text message, Cortney said the message “does not get read until I get where I’m going.”

Michelle Bright believes she taught her daughters to drive well, though she does remind them of safety tips sometimes.

“Seat belts, no cellphones and text me when you get there. And be careful,” Bright said she reminds her children before they drive anywhere.

Fairmont Police Cpl. B.L. Shuck said teenagers, including juveniles, fall under the same laws and restrictions that adults fall under.

“I think teens are more likely to violate texting (laws), because they’re using these smartphones more than adults,” he said. Citations are issued to individuals who text and drive.

West Virginia law prohibits the use of hand-held devices and texting for drivers. A first offense for breaking the rule is a $100 citation. The second offense is a $200 citation. The third offense is a $300 citation and may even include a three-point offense on a driving record.

“Parents should never let go of the fact that these teens are going to be by themselves at some point, and the things that they’ve taught them up to that point are very important,” Hatfield said. “Using a seat belt, for example, and putting the phone down while they’re driving, not texting while they’re driving.”

Hatfield said that she has given brochures titled “Distracted Driving and What You Need to Know” to local police departments. The brochures explains different distractions present when driving.

Email Richard Babich at rbabich@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @rbabichTWV.

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