Despite the grim stats linking young drivers with cell phones and texting, there's hope on the horizon.
It's rooted in a human sensitivity as old as civilization itself: peer pressure.
Bridgestone Tires issued results April 18 of its national survey of drivers age 16-21. Key findings: 71% said reading texts and email while driving is bad, but 45% do it anyway. Nearly 80% said sending texts and emails behind the wheel is bad, but 37% do that too.
The highlight for me: 95% of teenagers read texts and emails when driving alone, yet only 32% do it when friends are in the car. And an amazing 7% do it when parents are passengers.
(What's up with those parents? Are they not telling their kids to hang up and drive? Or are 7% of teen drivers simply that willful?)
I think this is a good trend. It tells me that young drivers know that texting and talking while driving is bad, so they refrain from it when they're with their peers. It's not unlike a pattern noted years ago by national safety researchers:
- One male passenger almost doubles the death rate for both male and female teen drivers.
- One female passenger tends to lower the crash rate for male drivers.
- A female driver with female passengers results in death rates somewhat higher, but there's no change in risk-taking.
That suggests teenage males drive more aggressively than females and encourage risk-taking. But what do we make of the fact that a male driving with a female passenger results in fewer crashes?
Perhaps it's because with many young males, macho risk-taking is honored and cultivated. I'm thinking back to my own testosterone-fueled escapades in cars full of 16-year-old guys. Especially a dreadfully fast daytrip over the Cascades for the opening day of fishing season.
Before you pass judgment, remember, I was 16. On a chilly April Saturday long ago, six of us piled into a Chevy Parkwood station wagon in the pre-dawn darkness and sped over a still-snowy Snoqualmie Pass. Three buddies raced us in a Pontiac Catalina borrowed, like our Chevy, from one of the parents.
Driving back later that day on I-90, someone threw a trout (from our earlier catch) out our window at the other car. They retaliated. It escalated into a preposterous high-speed chase near Denny Creek with the Chevy and Pontiac passengers pelting each other's windshields with trout. In that manner, every fish in our Chevy soon disappeared.
The state limit at that time was 12 fish per person.
Though I was not the driver, I said nothing to diminish our danger. Neither did anyone else.
Yet at other times, whenever a girl rode in our cars, each of us drove safely. Why? Girls were typically smart enough to speak up about slowing down and not burning rubber. Girls didn't see us as macho drivers. They saw us as stupid drivers!
Similarly, as society frowns more and more on roadway distraction, teens might hang up and drive – hopefully, even when they drive alone. To do otherwise risks ridicule.
And who wants to be labeled as stupid?