“I don’t even remember hitting the truck because I was looking down at my phone when I hit it.”
– Richard Tatum, 18
Three seconds. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that’s all the time it takes for a driver to take their eyes off the road and get into a car accident. And now, with more kids than ever texting on their cell phones while they’re driving… how many more crashes will there be? How many more kids will get hurt?
Richard Tatum was sending his girlfriend a text message, just like he does throughout the day. The problem was, this time he was driving while he was texting.
He crossed the median and collided head-on with a cement truck.
“I don’t even remember hitting the truck because I was looking down at my phone when I hit it,” says Richard, 18.
Richard’s car was totaled: he barely survived.
“It crushed my pelvis and hip and my knee. I tore two ligaments and chipped a piece of my knee cap off.”
According to a recent AAA Auto Club survey, 46 percent of teens admit to text messaging while driving. That’s up from 13 percent just two years ago.
“You just look down to text, look up to drive, look down to text. It’s not hard to do so everybody does it,” says Richard.
Two states, Washington and New Jersey, have made driving while texting illegal. Sixteen more are trying to pass similar legislation.
And it’s not just texting that’s dangerous; simply talking on the phone while driving greatly impairs your ability. Research from the University of Utah shows that driving while talking on the cell phone is equivalent to a .08 blood alcohol level. In most states, if your blood alcohol level is greater than .08 you are considered intoxicated.
Experts say that parents should make it clear: teens can use their cell phone or the car, but not both at the same time.
“With teens, you have to send the message that you cannot do this while you are driving, and if I find out you are doing it, then you are not going to be driving,” says Ted Waldbart, general manager, Safe America Foundation.
As for Richard, he’s now walking and even driving again, but he will never be the same.
“He now has the hip of a 47-year-old because of the cartilage damage and everything. And he is going to have arthritis, and he’s just not going to be able to do the things that he could do before,” says Richard’s mother, Linda Tatum.
“I don’t text when I drive anymore; it’s not worth breaking my good hip,” Richard says with a laugh.
Tips for Parents
The Federal government estimates that 30 percent of car accidents are due to driving distractions. To help keep your teen safe while they are in the car, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group recommend these guidelines for teaching teens about driving distractions.
Know and enforce your state’s Graduated Driver License laws and restrictions, including unsupervised driving, time of day and passengers in the car.
Sign a teen driving contract (many are available online, including SADD’s Contract for Life.
Set family driving rules with clear consequences for breaking the rules. SADD recommends rules such as:
No alcohol or drug use
No cell phone use, including text messaging
Limit distractions — eating, changing CDs, handling iPods or other activities while driving
Limit or restrict friends in the car without an adult
Be a role model. Your teen will follow your driving example, so be sure you are keeping your own rules.
If you receive an important call or must make a call, pull off the road. Do not drive while calling or texting.
Let your voicemail take the call. You can call back later when you are not driving.
Know when to stop talking. If the conversation is long, emotional or stressful continue it when you are not driving.
Do not take notes while driving. If you don’t want to forget a note, use a take recorder or pull off the road.
Do not eat or drink while driving.
Groom yourself at home, not in the vehicle.
Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) & Liberty Mutual Insurance Group Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE)
Safe America Foundation
Road and Travel