Distracted driving is the number one killer of teenage drivers, causing approximately 3,000 deaths per year nationwide, recent studies show.
With that knowledge, the Oro Valley Police Department is teaming up with Dr. Kelly Browning, executive director for Impact Teen Drivers, an educational program that trains community leaders as instructors so they can better inform teens about the real dangers and consequences of distracted and reckless driving.
Browning, who recently spoke at a highway safety committee program, reached out to Arizona agencies to participate in the program.
The Oro Valley Police Department was the first to agree to act as a pilot agency.
Arizona is one of 11 states that does not have a statewide ban on text messaging or phone calls while driving.
“That’s part of what is bringing the program to Arizona,” said Oro Valley Police Department Public Information Officer Kara Riley. “There is a hope that legislative changes will be put on the books when it comes to things like texting and driving.”
On Aug. 29, Browning led a four-hour train-the-trainer workshop at the Oro Valley Police Department Substation.
The workshop aimed to educate participants about the facts and trends of distracted driving, with the ultimate goal of motivating first responders, educators, health professionals, and community members to pass on the message in their own communities.
The schools within Oro Valley will be one of the targeted areas.
“Because we already have our SRO’s in schools, that’s an easy way to get the message out there for that part of the driving community,” said Riley.
The U.S. Government’s official distracting driving website shows individuals are 23 percent more likely to be involved in a crash if texting while driving.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving has surpassed the number of deaths of teen motorists who drink and drive, which accounts for about 2,700 deaths per year.
On average, texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds at a time. If traveling 55 miles per hour, that’s like driving the length of a football field blindfolded.
Texting and driving is not the only distraction that comes while driving, though one of the most common. Eating food, applying makeup, or changing a radio station frequently can also lead to accidents. Even hands-free cell phone devices have proven to be a distraction in studies.
Riley recognizes that distracted driving is also not limited to teenagers, and says the teen program will act as a catalyst to better educate drivers of all ages.
Professionals acknowledge a teenager’s driving habits are often associated with the example set forth by parents.
A recent study by the Allstate Foundation shows that more than half of Arizona parents are not setting rules around some of the most dangerous behaviors, including nighttime driving and passengers in the car.
“It’s important for parents to understand what they can do to help protect their teens during the first year of licensure, which is the most dangerous time of new drivers’ lives,” said Browning. “The first and most important thing to do is to role model good driving behavior – your kids are sitting behind you or next to you watching and learning for 15 and a half years before they start driving.”
Fortunately, Browning says, if habits can be changed, lives can be saved.
“We aren’t talking about an obscure disease or a problem we can’t solve – we are talking about the number one killer of young people in America – reckless and distracted driving,” she said. “It will take all of us – we all need to take action to change our driving culture to one in which distracted driving is simply unacceptable.”
More information on Impact Teen Drivers can be found at www.impactteendrivers.org/.