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    Can You Explain to a Teenager Why They Shouldn't Text and Drive Using Science? Help me out.
    By Aimee Stern | January 26th 2011 10:57 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Aimee

    Aimee is a 20 year veteran of the marketing communications, journalism and education fields. She excels at transforming scientific and technical...

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    My son just wrote an article for his 10th grade journalism class about a couple on their way to plan a Disney wedding in Orlando - their long-held dream wedding - who were hit by a truck driver that just had to answer a text in the middle of a highway. She was killed and her family now speaks regularly about the dangers of texting and driving. My neighbor has a smart, pretty, 19 year-old daughter who is glued to her cell phone. It buzzes all through dinner, and although she won't necessarily answer it, she stares at it anxiously each time it starts vibrating. She hit another car while she was texting, destroying hers, but fortunately not hurting anyone. Ever tried to tell a teenager not to do something - the polar opposite results even when they know it's dangerous. I've watched my neighbor struggle over this with her youngest daughter who even after trashing her car, still would answer texts while driving. So her mom finally did what a lot of parents these days are doing - she bought her a standard car with five gears - that she cannot drive and text in at the same time. Distracted driving. Whether it's a baby crying in the backseat, a ringing cell phone, lunch, or a text that just must be answered, we've turned into a nation of ridiculously dangerous drivers. And teenagers, especially those new to driving, are the worst offenders. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), cell phones have created a whole new form of distraction and are largely responsible for almost 6,000 highway deaths each year. I've been looking for plain language science to help explain to my teenage son, in the months before he starts to learn how to drive, and why distracted driving is so dangerous. I've found studies that say it's similar to drunk driving in that motor control is lessened making accidents more likely. I've found statistics on how many people have died. And I've found the heartbreaking stories like the one above. I also found a new NHTSA web site at www.distraction.gov which explains that there are three types of distracted driving according to the federal government: Visual — Taking your eyes off the road (texting, rubber necking to see what happened with an accident, reading an email or a book, studying, etc.) Manual — Taking your hands off the wheel (texting, fiddling with CDs and radios, calming a screaming baby, eating, etc.) Cognitive — Taking your mind off what you’re doing (talking on a cell phone, fighting, etc.) But I have not found a good explanation of the science of why distraction while driving is so dangerous. So I am opening this up to the scientists on this blog - how do you convince a 16 year-old who is just learning to drive that distracted driving can kill him and others - using science. All suggestions are welcome.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    I guess I'm not convinced that this is a science issue.  In my view, it's as simple as indicating that if the problem isn't obvious then perhaps not letting them drive or eliminating the phone (or both) will make the point a bit more clear.

    Neither a phone nor driving are rights, so I don't see why we have to enable someone that clearly lacks the responsibility to exercise it properly.

    Mundus vult decipi
    SynapticNulship
    So her mom finally did what a lot of parents these days are doing - she bought her a standard car with five gears - that she cannot drive and text in at the same time.

    Are you kidding me?  Punishment via reward...sounds fishy to me.  If I was the parent I wouldn't buy her a car at all.

    So I am opening this up to the scientists on this blog - how do you convince a 16 year-old who is just learning to drive that distracted driving can kill him and others - using science. All suggestions are welcome.

    You mean driver's ed hasn't been updated for the ubiquity of cell phones and our culture's addiction to interruptions?  Oh well, there is some research about that.  Although, it is pretty obvious that if you are actually staring at a cell phone while the car is in motion that you will hit something.

    Anyway, researchers have studied this.  It's basically a part of human factors which started (I think) with military airplane research and was later extended into the computer realm. 

    As I summarized in this article and in this article, humans can't actually multitask, they just think they can.  They're really switchtasking.  And that's just the beginning--depending on the context our cognitive load can go down considerably making us even worse at handling any tasks let alone multiple ones.

    I'll check to see if there's any of the original research papers online...
    Aitch
    Could I suggest the 'Concerned mother with a rolled up ball of paper that smacks you round the head, because you weren't aware of your surroundings' science experiment

    Try it, ....when they are texting/when they aren't and see if they notice the rolled up paper ball coming their way.....note the differences, and discuss....your concerns

    Another way, might be when serving them their meals [if you still do] to arrange with a friend[hubby] to phone you just at that moment, and drop their dinner on the floor/table/dogs mouth/wherever.....then discuss how easily you were distracted....and how it demonstrates dangerous/undesirable/unexpected outcomes from distractions....

    Just a few thoughts...you must be able to devise some similar experiments....I'd have thought?, and have fun....teens like fun....as I recall

    PS Don't let them see your post till you've edited it and removed all the microshaft induced errors
    Aimee is a 20 year veteran of the marketing communications, journalism and education fields. She excels at transforming scientific and technical information into concise messages, articles and written materials for a wide variety of clients in print and electronic media
    For a professional to leave so many errors in a post is a crime to journalism, and teens and old farts like me [wink]

    Aitch