Texting and Driving vs. Drinking and Driving For Teen Drivers
Studies have shown that drinking and driving among teens has decreased dramatically over the past few decades. Livescience noted that the rates for driving while under the influence of alcohol actually decreased by more than 50 percent over the span of about 20 years. While those statistics are incredibly encouraging, the dangers of drinking and driving might be replaced by a newer and deadlier trend: texting.
Texting and driving statistics and distracted driving facts are sobering. Distracted driving accounted for thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries in 2015. However, many teens don’t recognize the danger that the cell phone poses on the road, and a State Farm survey conducted just a few years earlier revealed that teens believe that drinking and driving was more dangerous than texting. While more than half of surveyed teens believed that drinking and driving could prove to be fatal, only 35 percent believed that texting behind the wheel could result in their death.
The reality, however, is that distracted driving in the form of texting or any device use is just as dangerous as driving under the influence. The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that more than ten thousand people were killed in crashes related to impaired drivers, but figures released by the NHTSA also showed that the rate of deaths caused by alcohol have declined since 2007 (when more than 13,000 deaths were reported).
However, from 2014 to 2015, statistics show that while impaired driving fatalities increased by a slight 3.2 percent, distracted driving fatalities increased by 8.8 percent—the highest of any category. In a report titled “Driver Electronic Use in 2015,” younger drivers (ages 16-24) showed the highest number of incidents through distracted driving observations on the road. This age group was most often seen holding their phone to their ear while driving and visibly using their device while driving. However, texting and driving statistics may be difficult to determine, as not all drivers are caught in the act of texting or cause a crash from their distraction.
While young drivers were more likely to use their devices behind the wheel, they also were involved in a large number of fatal crashes in 2015. According to crash statistics compiled by the NHTSA for 2015, “about 9 percent of all drivers involved in fatal crashes were 15 to 20 years old.” Almost 2,000 young drivers died in crashes that same year and almost 200,000 were injured.
DUI, DWI & The Evolution of the Law
Driving impaired and under the influence of alcohol (and later drugs) has been problematic since the 19th century. According to History.com, the first drunk driver was arrested in London on September 10, 1897. He was a taxi driver named George Smith and his punishment was a fine of 25 shillings. However, in the United States, the laws against drunk drivers didn’t take effect until the early 20th century (1910) when New York was the first state to punish drivers operating a vehicle under the influence.
Alcohol was constitutionally outlawed in the United States with the passing of the 18th amendment. The period of prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, but while the sale and consumption of alcohol was illegal, the rise of speakeasies and illegal brewers/distillers provided a black market filled with access to forbidden intoxication.
After the 18th amendment was repealed with the successful passing of the 21st amendment, alcohol’s forbidden lure eased. However, as the decades passed, the dangers of drinking–especially the effects seen while driving–began to take root into written laws. But the nod to punishing intoxicated drivers has been a long road.
While New York state understood the dangers first, some states allowed drinking and driving up through the 1980s. In an article in the Los Angeles Times, the state of Texas was profiled in the story’s lede for its lax laws against drinking and driving. The article is from 1985 and noted that a road trip between Dallas and Houston could be “a six packer.” As in, yes, a six pack of beer. When the article was written, drinking and driving was still legal in more than half of the states in the U.S. The only caveat to the legality of drinking and driving in many of those states was that the act was only permitted if you were not intoxicated.
So what changed?
In 1980, Cari Lightner was killed when walking home from a church carnival. The driver was intoxicated at the time of the crash and had a history of drunk driving. After Lightner’s death, her mother founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) and thus began the campaign to push for stricter laws against driving while intoxicated and help decrease drunk driving deaths.
M.A.D.D. was integral in the push to change the blood-alcohol limit to 0.08 in all 50 states. That goal was realized in 2000 when President Bill Clinton passed a transportation bill that included a provision requiring all states to adopt the 0.08 BAL mandate by the year 2004. While laws and punishments for drunk and/or impaired driving may vary in severity from state to state, the definition of what constitutes impairment remains fairly consistent across state lines.
The founding of M.A.D.D. also encouraged the development of other advocacy groups and education organizations. Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) and the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) are both established in many schools to educate about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Although there has been progress in punishing those who drive under the influence, drunk driving still remains a serious danger on the road. According to the NHTSA: “Every day, almost 29 people in the United States die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes—that’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016.”
The Decline of Impaired Driving?
Although drunk driving still remains a serious issue, studies have shown that impaired driving among teens—while still problematic—have decreased through the decades. While teens are aware of the dangers of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, resources like Uber and Lyft also may be contributing to the downward trend. The benefit of so many teens with cell phones—and especially smartphones—is that they have access to ridesharing services at the click of an app. This not only provides convenient transportation, but ridesharing services also might keep teens from driving while under the influence.
Of course, empowering programs like D.A.R.E. also have raised awareness of the dangers of drugs, alcohol and peer pressure. The prevalence of these types of programs also may be contributing to increased awareness among teens about the dangers of impaired driving while also decreasing the number of drunk driving deaths over the years.
Texting and Driving vs. Drinking and Driving
There is no safe impairment behind the wheel. Texting and driving versus drinking and driving differ only in context and physiological effects. While drinking and driving can be proven and accurately measured through blood, breath or urine analyses, the effects of distractions cannot be accurately measured…yet. Doctors and law enforcement understand that as the blood alcohol level increases, the effects of alcohol on the body and brain become more pronounced. Reflexes slow, vision blurs, speech slurs. Impairments are physical and obvious.
Distractions, however, are more subtle. Yet, they are still dangerous and lethal. If a teen glances down or focuses on reading a text or typing a response, their brain then takes focus from driving. Reflexes, then, slow not because of physical impairment, but because of mental distraction. The ability to hit the brakes in time is decreased, because the brain is not prepared to react.
For teens (and all drivers), there is no difference between texting and driving versus drinking and driving. Because driving impaired in any way–whether from drugs and alcohol or because of technology–can result in a loss of life or serious injury because of a crash. Both are conscious choice that are preventable, irresponsible and possibly deadly.
The Law of the Land: How States Have Reacted to Distracted Driving
The dangers of impaired driving are not without consequences, and the laws of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) have been enacted across all states. However, while the outcome of an infraction varies by offense (this could mean a heavy fine, losing your license or jail time), most teens understand that driving while impaired results in obvious legal troubles and could have fatal results.
Laws for distracted driving, however, are much less black and white for teens. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the state of Washington passed the first texting while driving law in 2007. Now 47 states have laws against texting and driving. However, again, every state handles their laws differently…and punishments vary per state. Unlike impaired driving, the consequences for teens using their phones while driving seem much less heavy-handed. Punishments can range from a small fine in Alabama to a $10,000 fine and jail time in Alaska.
Tough Love: How Parents Can Take a Stand
Most parents talk to their teens about drugs and alcohol and the impact of substance abuse. Parents understand the dangers of drinking and driving, and many have that discussion with their teens at an early age. However, the dangers of technology behind the wheel are becoming an increasing danger for teens and parents must emphasize the dangers of distracted driving.
A teen’s last words should not be LOL, SMH or Thx, and parents must ensure that teens grasp the dangers that their devices pose while driving. Before teens pass their written driver’s test to secure their permit, parents should insist on a driver’s contract that outlines a teen’s responsibilities behind the wheel. Include stipulations on technology use in the car and make sure young drivers know that glancing down even just for a second can have fatal results. You can also check out Focus by TeenDrive, the latest technology improving parental controls and teen driver safety!
As technology has changed, so have the dangers on the road. While impaired driving was one of the greatest dangers on the road, distracted driving also has become a rising danger for drivers of all ages. Education about distracted driving is a parent’s best defense to ensure their teen doesn’t become another fatal statistic.