1st Place Winner Michael McMeen

Huntsville, AL

I am currently a senior at Grissom High School. I plan to attend Auburn University in the fall and pursue a degree in Applied Mathematics. I hope to achieve a career in Actuarial Science after graduation.

Driving Blind

Today’s society has been blessed with a period of technological growth that has inspired medicines and other conveniences that an earlier generation could only dream of creating. However, with these advances society has grown overconfident and reckless in its own safety. One of the most prevalent and obvious examples of this overconfidence can be seen in drivers of all ages who text while driving. Texting while driving is an epidemic that must be fixed now, not later. To cure this problem, society must work together by raising awareness and increasing the regulations and penalties for texting and driving.

According to the National Safety Council, 38,300 people died in motor vehicle accidents in 2015i. Distracted drivers accounted for 9% of these accidents. ii Distracted driving is commonplace in today’s technology rich societ radio, programming a GPS, or sending and receiving texts, drivers are faced with countless objects that can distract them from the task at hand: driving. The fact that distracted driving accounts for 9% of accidents is unacceptable, and society must learn that the only way to fix this statistic is to understand the dangers of distracted driving.

Hey! Soccer practice is cancelled because of the rain so Mike and I are going to see Dr. Strange at 6. Want to come?

Depending on the source, the average adult reader can read anywhere from two hundred and fifty to three hundred words per minute. This means that when reading the average text message above, a reader would look at the message for approximately 4.8 to 5.76 seconds. This time does not even take into consideration the additional time needed to grab the phone and open the message. This means that to read a text, a person can take around 7 to 8 seconds for each text. Now, imagine that a driver gets a text and actually reads it. The nowdriver’s divided between trying to drive and read a text at the same time which will add even more time to the above estimate because the driver is distracted. Trying to text and drive is parallel to closing your eyes for ten to fifteen seconds while driving. If you are driving at sixty miles per hour, you are travelling eighty-eight feet per second. In ten seconds you have almost travelled the length of three football fields, and in fifteen seconds you have approximately travelled the length of four and a half football fields; all with your eyes closed!iii

All too often, people, both teenagers and adults, believe that distracted driving is someone problem else’s. They believe that they are above the statistics. This false confidence is the fundamental flaw in society that leads to the high percentage rates of distracted driving deaths. The National Occupant Protection Use Survey wrote that in 2010, around 660,000 drivers used phones or other electronic devices while driving at any given moment during the day. ii Without caution, drivers are too confident in their abilities and do not have the required caution to keep themselves and others safe on the road.

To improve distracted driving statistics, society must take several key steps. First, the dangers of distracted driving should be taught in schools starting as early as elementary school. Whether it be in the form of a cartoon that comically warns against distracted driving or practical demonstrations by having some students play Mario Kart while texting against others who are not texting, students should learn from an early age that technology and driving are not a safe combination. As students get older, such as in high school, presentations from actual victims or victims of the family, if they are willing, should be given to students. The stories are not easy to hear. Morris, King & Hodge, P.C., did a presentation at my high school on distracted driving and the story from a family member whose daughter was killed by a distracted driver really drove home the point; focus on driving when driving. With schools repeatedly driving home the dangers of using a cellphone while driving, society’s ne behavior. Over time, society will be filled with conscientious drivers.

The second action society needs to enact to help make driving safer is calling for stricter laws on texting and driving while simultaneously creating preventive measures in vehicles. Both Congress and state legislatures can help make the roads safer by making the punishments for using cellphones and other technological devices more severe. Consequences could include a mandatory course on driver safety and presentation on texting and driving before they are allowed to drive again. Fines should also be increased. Currently, the fines range from $20 to $500 dollars. However, to be a true deterrent, the penalty of breaking the law should be greater than the cost of a video game. Also, the idea of textalyzers presents another tool to help find and punish abusers of cellphones while thus increasing the deterrent of using a cellphone while driving. Textalyzers were created by a company called Cellebrite, a mobile forensics company, and they show whether a phone was in use in any capacity whether it be talking on a phone call, texting, or simply typing a note.iv If states gave these testalyzer tests to police officers and created the same laws that are in place for breathalyzers for testalyzers, the chances of being caught breaking the texting and driving laws become much higher. If Congress and state legislatures work together, police could be better equipped to not just punish offenders but to prevent offenders as well. As a nation, we must make safety on roads a priority so that Congress and state legislatures also make it a priority on the political agenda.

The third step that needs to be taken is to raise awareness in society about the dangers of distracted driving. There are countless numbers of movies that show the hero of the film driving distracted with no harm done to himself as well as other movies highlighting dangerous driving—all of the Jason Bourne and Need for Speed movies. However, these movies have helped exacerbate the overconfidence into today show the real consequences of distracted driving. Examples such as Dr. Stra trembling hands after a car accident that was caused by texting are beneficial to society because instead of increasing the sense of false invincibility it brings home to the audience the harsh reality of consequences that result from texting and driving. While media can help raise awareness, contests, like this Driver Safety Scholarship program, also bring about awareness.

These programs help by having teenagers think about the dangers of distracted driving and truly understanding their risks. These programs can be expanded to not just essays but art contests to reach a wider audience. By reaching this wider audience, programs to raise awareness about distracted driving will be even more effective in pursuing their goal.

While the steps and dangers have been explained above, they are simply words on a page. The programs and laws that can be made to help teach people are only effective if the people listen. Our challenge is to get society to listen. In the end, the solution to stop texting and driving is up to each individual. To initiate true change, each of us must be the catalyst of the change; no one can do it for us. By each individual choosing not to use his or her phone while driving and pointing out the dangers to their friends and family, society can be improved. In short, to prevent texting and driving in society, you, the reader, must stop texting and driving and enact the change, too.

Additional Scholarship Winners


i Chappell, Bill. “2015 Traffic Fatalities Rose By Largest Percent in 50 Years, Safety Group Says.”NPR.org, 13 Feb. 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/02/18/467230965/2015-traffic-fatalities-rose-by-largest-percent-in-50-years-safety-group-says

ii “Distracted Driving.”NHTSA, 13 Feb. 2017, https://www.distraction.gov/stats-research-laws/facts-and-statistics.html

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iv Wallace, Kelly. “Driving While Distracted: Is the Textalyzer the new Breathalyzer?”CNN, 13 Feb. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/02/health/distracted-driving-textalyzer/