The sight of bustling high school parking lots is one sure sign that the 2010-11 school year is in full swing, full of energy and promise.
But there is a danger in those lots and on streets around the region — teenage drivers talking on cell phones, eating or texting. Distracted driving is a big problem.
The teens freely admit it.
A recently released survey conducted by AAA, the motorists organization, and Seventeen magazine shows that 86 percent of teenage drivers say they have driven while distracted. And almost as many, 84 percent, say they know this is dangerous behavior. Yet teens continue to take unnecessary risks .
Some 2,000 male and female teen drivers aged 16-19 answered questions in May about their driving behavior and admitted to a lot of behavior that could lead to accidents.
Sixty percent of those surveyed said they have talked on a cell phone while driving, 61 percent have eaten food and 73 percent have a adjusted their radio or music players while on the move.
The scariest distraction is texting while driving. The survey said that texting drivers sent about 23 text messages in the previous month.
How do they justify that unsafe behavior? Thirty-two percent said they don’t think anything bad will happen to them. Some 34 percent said they have experience at multitasking, so the danger is minimal. And 41 percent think their action is so brief, just a second or two, that it is not dangerous.
AAA officials say that vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for teen drivers. Just a two-second distraction doubles the risk of getting in a crash, AAA says. Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in accidents involving a distracted driver and more than 500,000 people were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
AAA, Seventeen and the Department of Transportation are promoting Sept. 17 as Two-Second Turnoff Day – asking drivers to eliminate one distraction by taking two seconds to turn off their cell phones. A more decisive date on the horizon is Oct. 31, when a Billings ordinance takes effect that bans the use of hand-held cell phones by people driving a motor vehicle, with few exceptions.
All drivers should take a look at their driving habits and eliminate distractions. But lesser experienced teen drivers should pay particular attention to the task at hand — safely arriving at their destination.