Law for teen drivers spreads around U.S.: Keep hands on wheel, off phone
Newspapers present information on road safety and other topics that spotlight risks and ways to avoid them. Challenge students to think of or find published examples of public-interest information that protects readers and their families.
Let class members step into a newspaper editor’s job by discussing the benefits and drawbacks of front-page coverage about a serious car wreck involving a teen driver.
For another journalism exercise, have students assume the role of reporters and list the types of sources to interview for an article on texting while driving. What voices would add balance and perspective to a report on this subject?
Scary sights on the road include speeders, weaving vehicles, red light runners and – increasingly – drivers tapping a phone keypad. While cell use behind the wheel spans age categories, teens are more likely to be texting than talking, specialists say and a recent poll confirms. That distraction raises the risk of a crash and can bring legal penalties in 14 states, as well as the District of Columbia.
California is the latest to crack down on “driving while texting.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last Thursday chose a high school as the site for signing a law that bars drivers under 18 from using any wireless device while operating a vehicle – even if wearing a headset. “This will eliminate a major distraction for our young and inexperienced drivers and make the roads safer for everyone,” said Schwarzenegger, who has two teen daughters. “I tell them, ‘If I see you using the phone once while driving, you get both taken away — you’re taking the bus.’” Similar bans are pending in 16 other states, and some limit adult drivers’ phone use to a hands-free mode – a step that’s part of California’s new law.
The goal is to save lives. Reading messages, sending replies with one hand and even chatting with a pal is distracting and slows reaction time in an emergency. Text-messaging may have played a role in a June crash near Rochester, N.Y., that killed five recent high school graduates, police say. Seconds before the crash, the driver's phone received a text message and sent a response. Critics say parents, not state lawmakers, should enforce safety rules for young motorists. Teens argue that texting while driving on local streets is NBD and that bans unfairly punish conscientious drivers who use keypads only while stopped.
Lawmaker says: "If it can happen to my kids, it can happen to anybody's kids." – Bonnie Garcia, California assemblywoman who is co-author of new law. Her son was 16 and her daughter was 20 when each had a serious car crash while on a phone.
Columnist says: “Parents aren't always around, and the idea that the police might actually take away the license for a long period of time could help reduce the number of kids doing this.” – Tom Regan, Christian Science Monitor
Crash statistics: Only 6 percent of licensed U.S. drivers were teens in 2004, but they were involved in 14 percent of fatal highway accidents and 18 percent of all smash-ups reported by the police.
Front Page Talking Points is written by
Alan Stamm for NIEonline.com, Copyright 2013
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