Curbing Texting While Driving

By Bratsis, Michael E. | The Science Teacher, January 2013 | Go to article overview
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Curbing Texting While Driving

Bratsis, Michael E., The Science Teacher

More teens are wearing seatbelts, and fewer are driving after drinking alcohol--but nearly one-third of high school students are texting behind the wheel, according to a survey of 15,000 U.S. high school students (Eaton et al. 2012).

Teens make up the largest group of distracted drivers, and 11% of teen drivers in fatal auto accidents were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. Nearly half of U.S. teens say they have been in a car when the driver was texting (Madden and Lenhart 2009).

Upperclassmen, the students most likely to drive, are the worst violators: 58% of seniors and 42.9% of juniors said they had texted at least once while driving in the month before the study (Eaton et al. 2012).

The concentration needed for safe driving makes texting safely at the same time impossible, research shows. A driver's reaction time doubles when sending or reading a text (Cooper, Yager, and Chrysler 2011). Sending or reading a text takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that's like driving the length of a football field blindfolded (Olson et al. 2009).

"The human brain just isn't capable of doing several things at once and giving full attention to all of them," says D'Arcy Lyness, an adolescent psychologist and behavioral health editor at

Classroom activity

This activity--for the classroom, gym, or athletic field--demonstrates how distracting texting on the move can be. First, mark a winding obstacle course (traffic cones or string work well). Along the course, place 10 or so small objects such as paper clips. Half the students should walk the course while texting and half without phones.

Instruct walkers to stay close to one side of the course--without touching markers or crossing course lines but picking up all objects--as quickly as possible.

Use two cell phones: One for you to send simple questions related to classwork (for example: "F = m x ?" or "chem. symbol for sodium = ?") and one for texters to answer while they are walking. Make sure to text the same number of questions to each texter. (The number of correct answers is not relevant.)

Ask two students to help with data collection: One to time classmates and the other to observe and record whether each student is a texter or safe walker, as well as the number of times course markers are touched, the number of times course lines are crossed, the number of objects collected, and the time taken to complete the course.

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