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Organization Wants To Stop Teens Texting While Driving

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WAMU 88.5 reporter Martin DiCaro tests a distracted driving simulator at a summit in Washington, D.C.
Martin DiCaro
WAMU 88.5 reporter Martin DiCaro tests a distracted driving simulator at a summit in Washington, D.C.

"It can wait" is the message safety advocates are trying to drum into the heads of teenaged drivers. They're urging teens to wait until they've reached their destinations before responding to a text message.

A distracted driving summit held in Washington, D.C. focused on the troubles of texting while driving.

As soon as teens place one hand on the wheel and the other on their cell phone, they've broken every rule they learned in the first 10 minutes of their first driving lesson. The problem is so pervasive hundreds of teenagers from across the country were invited to this summit where safety advocates and federal officials spoke to them.

"We want people to use our products safely," says AT&T's Andrea Brands. She also says the company isn't trying to reach only teens that have their licenses.

"Actually, we're trying to teach students who aren't quite driving as well," she says. "It's the first year you have your driver's license that you get into the most crashes."

If only every teen were as mature as Elizabeth Ryan of Sterling, Va. She's 16 and has her learners permit.

"There is too much to be focused on for me to even think about my phone in my pocket," she says. "Half the time it's not even in my pocket, my father is usually holding it in his hand."

Safety advocates say while it's important for parents to set good examples, teens are most likely to listen to other teens.

Charla Faulkner is 15 and also drives on a permit. She says she appreciates being told not to text and drive now, not when she's 18. "Otherwise you have to change your habits and habits are hard to get out of," she says.

"What we hear from the youth is that they want to be part of the solution," says Sandy Spavone, the executive director of the National Organizations for Youth Safety. Her group is focusing on creating good habits before teens are of driving age, conditioning them to resist their digital gadgets once they're old enough to hit the gas. She says peer pressure is more effective than adult lecturing.

"The teens really tell us that the peer-to-peer message has the most effect on them, but it takes role modeling from parents," says Spavone. "We cannot do one thing and tell our teens to do something else."

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute says texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be in an accident.

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