Gov. Nathan Deal has become the first governor in the nation to appoint an all-teen board to recommend major changes to teen driving education and penalties for breaking state texting and driving laws.
The goal is to reduce the number of teen crashes and fatalities, as vehicle crashes are the No.1 cause of death for teenagers in Georgia.
Sara Dada, a senior at Wheeler High School, said her school has focused on the issue as well.
“We had Allstate there a few weeks ago promoting no texting and driving, and Safe America did an assembly about distracted driving a few years ago,” Dada said.
Both events steered home effective messages and testimonies, she said, but some teens continue to think they’re invincible.
Media attention has deterred some texting activity, Dada said, and Kennesaw Mountain High School senior Colette Wink agreed.
“I’d say the sensible teens who normally have an awareness of things around them have stopped or slowed down on it,” Wink said. “But the typical teen who thinks he’s invincible hasn’t.”
Like Dada, she encourages safe driving among her friends.
“I never see my friends texting,” she said. “It seems having someone else in the car helps in some respect because the driver feels guilty for texting and feels responsible for someone else’s life.”
Some continue to text, but they use hands-free devices, Dada said. With Siri, a voice-recognition software on iPhones, for example, people are able to send text messages without typing.
State teens take action
Members of the Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving have asked lawmakers to ban handheld phone use for all Georgia drivers. The commission met Monday with the Georgia State Patrol, the Department of Drivers Services and University of Georgia researchers to present ideas to reach teens. They will meet again in the fall to start making some changes.
The state has a law against any cellphone use, handheld or hands-free, for drivers younger than 18 years old, and all drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. The stipulation includes reading a text message while driving.
Commission members presented recommendations to state lawmakers and public safety leaders Monday.
One strategy members of the commission recommended was that driver education courses and license tests should include a greater focus on dangers of texting and driving.
The Marietta City Schools offer texting and driving information through driver’s education, according to Cindi Savage, director of Marietta Community School.
“We added that in last year,” she said. “It’s important that they’re taught about it through the regular curriculum.”
The commission also suggested that after a first citation for texting and driving for all ages, drivers should have harsher punishments similar to those given to drivers charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
As of now, text law violators are subject to a $150 fine and one point against his or her driving record.
Targeting the audience
So far, the teens on the commission have focused on eliminating texting and driving in a number of ways.
First, they would like to implement a school pledge that students must sign before they can receive parking passes. The pledge promotes driving laws and informs students of penalties for breaking the law.
A similar pledge exists within Marietta City Schools, Savage said, encompassing all distracted driving.
Cobb County Chief Assistant Solicitor Bill Pardue said through five traffic courtrooms, there are texting and driving citations every week. Between August 2012 and March 2013, there have been 92 citations from Cobb County Police for the violation, Pardue said.
The commission plans to use public service announcements through nonprofit organizations and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety to spread the word of the dangers of distracted driving, according to Ashley Fielding with Georgia Office of Highway Safety.
The group plans to target their audience before they have licenses in hand and add information about texting and driving to drivers’ education classes, Fielding said. Then, they plan to reform the driver’s permit test to be sure the students retain information they’ve learned in drivers’ education.
The group will work toward adding texting and driving road signs similar to the “Click it or Ticket” signs, and work with law enforcement to strengthen the penalties for violators.
Their last idea is to work with phone companies to send texts to teenagers informing them of any fatalities from distracted driving.
Wheeler senior Dada, the daughter of an AT&T executive, said she has access to campaign tactics phone companies use to promote safe driving.
“I have two bumper stickers on my car about not texting and driving, and I stop responding to my friends’ texts if I know they’re on the road,” Dada said.
First of its kind
The Commission on Teen Driving is administered through the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. The teen board is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the governor’s office.
The group was chosen from nearly 200 applicants based on their academic and driving records and some personal testimony of loss that was caused by distracted driving, Fielding said.
“This is just the beginning,” said Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “We are proud to be the first state in the union to make sure that teen drivers are in the forefront of a discussion that will ultimately change their lives.”