Efforts to convince people about the dangers of texting and driving are succeeding, according to a recent survey, enough so that young drivers are increasingly not afraid to chastise their parents on bad driving habits.
AAA Mid-Atlantic’s 2014 Report to the Legislature said 73 percent of motorists in New Jersey do not text while driving, an increase from 67 percent in 2011. In South Jersey, the number is even higher, at 75 percent. The report says there has been a 19 percent decrease in the use of electronic devices by drivers since 2007.
Among younger drivers, ages 18 to 29, public awareness campaigns and driving lessons have helped create a 20 percent drop since 2011 in those who text or use some other social media while driving, according to the survey of 1,000 individuals.
“As a new driver, I see (my mother) texting and I tell her, ‘Well, you know, in the manual for driver’s ed ...’” said Ahmad Huckaby, 16, of Atlantic City. “Every time I see her do something wrong, I tell her.”
Once, he said, he almost got distracted himself.
“I was driving, and normally I put my phone on silent, but one time it slipped to the floor and it started ringing and I was about to reach for it. But I caught myself. I could hear my driver’s ed teacher yelling at me in my head, ‘Don’t you dare pick up that phone!’” Huckaby said.
The AAA survey reported that 52 percent of New Jersey motorists support a ban on the use of hand-held devices by drivers.
“Drivers are realizing the deadly consequences of using a phone while operating a car and are changing their behaviors for the better by putting the phones down,” said Tracy Noble, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
A potential problem pointed out in the AAA report is that many drivers think they are less likely to be distracted by texting or emailing than other drivers.
Students at local high schools often receive a barrage of information on the dangers of distracted driving.
For the past three years, Lower Cape May Regional High School has required students who want to obtain parking permits to attend an information assembly with their parents.
“The response we have gotten has been overwhelmingly positive,” Vice Principal Peter Daly said.
One of the statistics shared in that assembly is that in the four seconds it can take to compose and send a text, a person could drive the length of a football field, said driver’s ed teacher Karen Wadding. The information came from the NJ Teen Driving organization’s “Share the Keys” program.
Cassidy Shea, 17, is a student at Atlantic City High School and drives to school every day. Shea, Huckaby and several sophomores at Atlantic City High spoke to The Press of Atlantic City about the issue Wednesday.
She agrees that there are fewer distracted drivers on the roads because of the amount of campaigns and commercials geared toward informing young drivers of the dangers.
Admittedly, the Brigantine resident said, she has stopped at least once at a red light and taken a selfie, but she knew it was a distraction.
But what are students taught is distracted driving?
“When your hands aren’t on the wheel, that’s distracted driving,” said Meghan Holl, 16, of Brigantine. “Even at a stop light, it’s not OK, because it could change at any second.”
Holl said she just got her permit and is way too nervous about driving in general to engage in distracting habits. Plus, she said, there are enough commercials telling her not to.
Students who disagree about the decline in distracted driving said their older siblings or parents are distracted drivers.
“Extremely. Every time (my mom) even looks at the phone, I tell her, ‘Don’t text and drive, you’re going to get us killed,” said Georgia Turner, 16, of Margate. “So she has me text for her in the car. But even sometimes she will look down while we are at a red light and when it turns green, I’m like, ‘Mom, the light’s green, we have to move before we get hit by a bunch of cars.’”
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