Just the other day a very sad story came across the news entitled "Massachusetts teen convicted of homicide in texting-while-driving case". DWT (Driving While Texting) has been in the news for several years now and research has clearly shown that DWT is very dangerous. And to top it off, it is illegal in many states to drive while texting. Drivers ed courses may touch on this topic, but there's a bit more to the story. Let's explore a few reasons why teens are particularly susceptable to the dangers of DWT. For reference, please read Why Teens Crash for more detailed information on the underlying research for this topic.
Key issues for affecting teens that text while driving
- Teens see texting as just a normal part of their life. They text during class, sporting events, and pretty much everywhere they go. So, its natural to continue being "in the stream" while driving a car as well.
- The research on the topic of teen driving is often misunderstood or simply disregarded. The seminal study titled "Young novice drivers: careless or clueless?" by McKnight and McKnight is a study done on the reasons teens crash and is a great reference on the topic. What the research clearly shows is that the largest vulnerability for teen drivers is the lack of quickly recognizing hazardous situations while driving.
- It has also been shown that having a "split focus", such as simultaneously driving and texting, dilutes the drivers attention by a large degree. In this era of multitasking, believe it or not, research shows that the human brain can only focus on one task at a time and driving while texting detracts from the drivers' ability to concentrate on driving.
- Driving while texting is doubly bad for teens because not only do they have trouble recognizing hazardous situations but by splitting their focus, it adds to the already difficult and critical task at hand.
The case of the the Massachusetts teen is a very sad case and has negatively affected many lives. I'm sure the driver never had any intention of harming anyone or even thought he was doing anything that could cause serious damage. In addition to just putting in place laws, my belief is that we should also make the case as to why these laws exist in the first place. Maybe if the particularly dangerous mix of teens, driving, and texting was more widely understood it would help teens make the wise choice of not texting while driving.