From cell phones to satellite radio to friends in the backseat, teen drivers are faced with a multitude of distractions that impair their ability to focus on the road.
The numbers are shocking: according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, seven teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries. And for every mile driven, teens are three times as likely to be involved in a fatal crash than drivers 20 and older. Though the younger generation (15 – 24) represents only 14 percent of the US population, the same age group accounts for 30 percent of the total costs of motor vehicle injuries among male drivers, and 28 percent among female drivers. It’s a scary problem, and the issue seems to be getting worse due to a major generational development: texting. In 2010, 3,267 people were killed in crashes due to distracted driving. In 2012, the number increased to 3,331 fatalities.
Whereas cell phones started out as a source of communication during times of emergency, these days, they can do just about anything. From emails to games to live video streaming… pretty soon, they will be making our cup of morning coffee. And while the advancements are certainly nice in an increasingly mobile world, the use of cell phones on the roadways, especially when it comes to teen texting, has become a technological epidemic. According to a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute Study, drivers who text while behind the wheel are 23 times more likely to wreck.
Fortunately for the Charleston area, students at West Ashley High School recognize the severity of the problem and are stepping up to stop the texting and driving.
Last year, the highway patrol partnered with Subway restaurants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia to begin a campaign to encourage students to not text and drive by having students sign a pledge to “W8 2 txt.” Those students who sign the pledge online receive special wristbands, pledge cards, and even free subs at participating restaurants. Last week, the regional branch of the program kicked off in a special event at West Ashley High, thanks to the encouragement and support from members of the Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) club. At the event, representatives from highway patrol shared profound statistics about the risks of texting and driving, but perhaps even more insightful was the story of LaTonia Wine, a local mother who lost her daughter Tamara Steward, because of texting and driving. “Her story was so personal, and so overwhelming,” explains Molly West, faculty advisor of the SADD club at WAHS. “It touched everyone, at it really resonated with our students.”
West and the 15 members of the SADD club are ready to take on the challenge of rejuvenating the club in order to help prevent dangerous driving issues such as texting, drinking, and distractions in general. “Drivers encounter 100 distractions on average per mile driven,” West explains. “Brand new drivers can’t balance those distractions.” On March 28, the entire student body participated in a safe driving initiative on behalf of the SADD club. Students met in the parking lot between 8 a.m. and noon, and attended a special “Golf Cart Academy.” Not only did the young drivers learn about the importance of safe driving, but also they took turns wearing “impairment goggles” and “texting goggles” while driving a golf cart. The goggles allowed the driver to experience what it would be like to operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, or while trying to text and drive. It’s all fun and games during the activity, and probably a welcomed break from class, but the exercise allows students to gain a better understanding of the severity of driving distractions.
With spring break and prom approaching, West is excited to see the students at West Ashley working to bring about a change to this younger, text-obsessed culture. “It’s been awesome to see how willing the kids are to get on board with this,” she says. “They wear their pledge bracelets, and the SADD students wear their t-shirts once a week. It has done a lot to heighten awareness, which is the first step.”
With all the new safety initiatives and goals in place, the SADD students definitely have something to be happy about.
“I’m so excited about the potential of the club. I love the idea that the students empower each other. We aren’t telling them what to do. We are turning it over to them, and it’s getting to be contagious.”

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