Students over at Brattleboro Union High School last week got behind the wheel, cell phones in hand, and texted to their hearts’ delight.
And not one of them got in trouble for breaking the law.
As part of a distracted driving course last Friday, BUHS drivers’ education teacher Michael Hatt had student drive through the parking lot in a golf cart, trying to navigate through a series of brightly colored cones while texting on their phones. The practice gives the teens firsthand experience on just how distracted drivers can become, sometimes without even noticing it.
According to U.S. Department of Transportation, at least 3,092 people were killed on American roads in 2010 due to distracted driving from handheld devices.
This accounted for one in every 10 of fatal accidents.
And data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also shows that drivers under the age of 25 are two to three times more likely than older drivers to send text messages or e-mails while driving.
According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 10 states, D.C., Guam and the Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cell phones while driving. Except for Maryland and West Virginia -- at least until July, 2013 -- all laws are primary enforcement, which means an officer may cite a driver for using a handheld cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.
Here in Vermont, as well
Just a few years ago, a young driver from Massachusetts struck a local man while he was cycling in Dummerston; she was checking her GPS at the time of the accident.
Which brings us back to last week’s lesson at the high school.
"Statistically, these are the most dangerous months to be a teenager on the road," Hatt told the Reformer. "This is a way to bring awareness to distracted driving and let them know how dangerous it is."
Bryse Gilbeau, 17, who hopes to get his driving permit this summer, said he has been in cars where the driver was texting.
"It’s really bad. You can kill a person, or an animal," he said. "You can’t see the road when you are texting."
Haley George, 16, has her permit and might take her driving test this summer after her birthday.
"It freaks me out when people text while driving," she said. "I’m never going to do it."
Let’s hope these kids have learned their lesson, and will educate their peers on what they’ve learned.
Remember, we’re not just talking about text messages. Drivers can be distracted by a phone call, or GPS device. With smartphones these days, it could be a comment on Facebook or an e-mail, too. (Let’s just hope it’s not downloaded videos on a phone or laptop -- then again, you never know!)
"Distracted driving is an epidemic," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated in a press release last week. "We need everyone to do their part, whether it’s helping pass strong laws, educating our youngest and most vulnerable drivers, or starting their own campaign to end distracted driving."