Teen Driver - Ed Cunicelli, courtesy The Children's Hospital of PhiladelphiaEnlarge Photo
Sometimes a good idea comes along that takes some time to gain traction. In a stepped-up effort to discourage distracted driving, a new campaign from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is urging drivers who simply can’t or won’t decouple themselves from texting devices to “designate a texter.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. The recommendation to have a designated driver has long been one way to help combat drunken driving. But a designated texter? How’s that going to work?
Apparently the awareness campaign about distracted driving is beginning to have some effect, especially among teens. A recently published survey of teens by State Farm found that nearly four out of five teen passengers said they now speak up when riding with a distracted driver. And, according to the survey, 84 percent of the distracted drivers listened and stopped driving distracted after being scolded by passengers.
Teen Driver - photo courtesy of The Children's Hospital of PhiladelphiaEnlarge Photo
Somewhat disturbing is the fact that while the majority of teens surveyed told drivers not to text and drive, about one third (34 percent) of teens said they themselves had engaged in texting while driving. A story in The Washington Post points out federal research showing that teens and drivers under the age of 25 are more likely to text than older drivers.
So, the passenger is along for the ride, so to speak. If the designated driver is not allowed behind the wheel, then the designated texter is the only one to handle the texting duties, right? Texting, by its very nature, is an intensely personal pursuit. Each person has his or her own preferred way to do it, knows what to say and how to say it. And timing is everything, since teens feel it’s important to respond instantly to text messages coming in. The driver is just supposed to hand over the cellphone to the passenger before driving and permit him or her to respond to incoming texts?
If the teen awareness is increasing about the dangers of texting while driving, as well as the fact that the behavior is against the law for all drivers in 39 states and the District of Columbia, and banned for novice drivers in another five states, maybe the idea of a designated texter will catch on.
But it will probably take some getting used to.
There’s another important point to be made here and that is that conversation itself is distracting to drivers. Back to the designated texter, there’s undoubtedly going to be dialogue between the driver and passenger as to how to respond to the text. Any time the driver’s attention isn’t completely focused on driving, this is still distracted driving. And it’s dangerous.
Ford SYNC preset text messaging responsesEnlarge Photo
A safer alternative?
Maybe a more palatable and safe solution is the use of voice-control systems from automakers offering text-to-voice and voice-to-text messaging with preset responses. Examples include Hyundai’s Blue Link and Ford’s SYNC audible text messaging.