Probably nobody would be surprised to find out that, statistically, teenagers are not very good drivers. In fact, of all teenagers that die annually, most of them are killed in completely preventable car crashes. On average, six teenagers of driving age die every single day in the United States from motor vehicle injuries.
There are, of course, several factors that help to account for this. Many argue that current driver’s education is not nearly as rigorous or comprehensive as it ought to be or used to be, especially seeing as in many Tucson school districts Drivers Ed is no longer a compulsory class offering and instead an elective, if available at all.
Many critics though are quick to point instead to substance abuse as a major impairment in driving that all too often affects teens.
They are not without evidence, considering the fact that among male teenage accidents 25% of drivers were under the influence at the time. Other studies simply argue that teenagers account for the age demographic least likely to wear a seatbelt when driving, and it’s a statistic that very well could be hurting them.
These factors are all old news though. The parents of today were the teenagers of yesterday, who likely all experienced intoxicated driving, lack of Drivers Ed, and seatbelt complaints the same way 21st century teenagers do.
Texting, however, is new. With texting and driving, the number 23 begins to be pretty important. In 2011, 23% of motor vehicle collisions were caused by cell phone use. Unlike alcohol or drugs, texting requires an enormous amount of eyes-off-the-road time, and the impact is clear: texting by a driver makes a collision 23 times more likely.
While these figures are not specific to teenagers, it is easy to surmise that for the new drivers of today, texting has become an integral part of their life in a way it might not be for older drivers. Most teenage drivers probably got behind a phone before they ever sat behind the wheel, and thus are more likely to underestimate its influence on their ability to drive well.
A habit with such dangerous consequences has certainly garnered attention.
While forty-six states possess bans of some kind on texting and driving, in most cases they aren’t enforced as strictly as drunk driving laws. Arizona remains one of the four US states lacking any sort of texting and driving ban at all, as all proposals have been rejected for the past nine consecutive years.
Considering the absence of any Arizona texting and driving laws, Tucson teenagers may be particularly reticent to give up texting and driving habits. After all – besides possible death or injury, there are no real legal consequences.
Beyond that, teenagers remain a particularly tough group to tap. If they think they can text and drive adequately, as 77% of them statistically say they can, then it is difficult to convince them otherwise before it is too late.
Enter David Hazen, creator of the “Down for the Count” app available for Apple devices. Hazen specifically became interested in tackling teenage texting and driving when he looked around his community and easily saw its consequences,
“Over the past year I have recognized more and more people using their phones while driving. Whether they were using their phone while going 75 on the freeway or checking for new Facebook likes at traffic lights, distracted driving due to cell phones has become an epidemic,” he said.
“When I learned distracted driving due to cell phones was now the #1 killer of teenagers in the United States, I knew teenagers were whom I needed to target with my app,” he explained.
Hazen’s “Down for the Count” app, uniquely formulated to combat teen texting and driving, allows teenagers to win prizes and gift cards just for keeping their hands off their phone and on the wheel for long periods of time.
By simply starting the app each time you get in the car and not touching your phone otherwise, the app will record the periods of time driven without cell phone usage. As this time accumulates, teenagers gain access to prizes that reward their safe driving behavior.
“More important even than having an app that works is having an app that people want to use. Down For The Count utilizes a rewards system offering gift cards to places teenagers want to spend money at, such as Starbucks, Chipotle, and Goodness,” Hazen explained. “By rewarding safe driving habits, we have found that teenagers are more likely to try the app and once they realize how easy it is to earn gift cards, Down For The Count is becoming a daily habit for our users,” he said.
Down for the Count has formed a partnership with The Gregory School student council to collaboratively prevent distracted driving among teens.
The Gregory School is also participating in a nationwide State Farm challenge to raise awareness of and rally against teen texting and driving by creating a sixty second video demonstrating the school’s commitment to the cause. The winners are voted upon, with the ultimate prize being $100,000 for the triumphant school.
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