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Technology and driving: changing the culture

A n estimated 3,000 teenagers die every year because of texting and driving, compared to an estimated 2,700 that die in alcohol-related accidents, according to an article posted on newsday.com on May 8, 2013. ìIt (texting or using a smartphone while driving) has become a major issue amongst drivers,î said Spencer Pace, director of training for the Colorado branch of MasterDrive. ìIt used to be the newest drivers that people were most concerned about, but now we feel itís almost at all age levels.îRonn Langford of Colorado Springs founded MasterDrive in 1986, after his youngest daughter was killed by a drunk driver on the way back from a movie. Pace said it is clear there is a problem because of distractions like technology, and MasterDrive is doing what it can to be part of the solution. Through their driverís education programs, MasterDrive shows videos and news stories to spark a discussion about distracted driving, he said. ìThe message is that if they have to take a call or text, they need to pull to the side of the road and do it,î Pace said.ìItís not appropriate to do it while in control of the car.îTo demonstrate the dangers of distracted driving, Pace said MasterDrive has an exercise that adds a layer of multitasking to what would normally be required of a driver. ìTheir performance is drastically impacted,î he said.ìWe show them that even a little bit of distraction can impact your performance. ìA lot of people think theyíre just driving but statistically speaking thatís one of the most dangerous things youíre doing in your day.Thereís no reason to compound the risk or increase it to take a call or shoot a text.îSome local school districts are becoming more aware of the dangers and starting to reach out to their student body to help educate them about safe driving practices. Nanette Anderson, public information officer for Academy School District 20, said the district typically holds their safe driving assemblies in the spring to coincide with prom, but they will be offering a ìRules of the Roadî session through the districtís Parent Academy program in September. Matt Meister, director of communications for Falcon School District 49, said the districtís communications department is going to partner with Clear Channel Communications Inc. to create a public service announcement about texting and driving that will air on the radio in September and October. ìWe are in the brainstorming phases about how we can educate the community about this issue,î he said. Alexis Harrison, a junior at Vista Ridge High School in D 49, said she is currently taking driverís education courses online through idrivesafely.com. ìThey talk about that youíre not supposed to text and drive at all and that you canít have it in your hands while youíre driving,î she said. ìYou canít be texting or doing anything where youíre taking your eyes off the road.îHarrison said most of the information she has received about the dangers of distracted driving have come from her driverís education course and her parents, not from her high school. What she has heard thus far has not made much impact, she said. A program that brings in real-life situations might be more beneficial, she said. Joy Schmitter, director of the P.A.R.T.Y. (Prevent Alcohol and Risk Related Trauma in Youth) program at the University of Colorado Hospital said Harrisonís comment is true. Kids in her age group usually are not exposed to a meaningful and memorable program that impacts their decisions about texting and driving. ìStudents in our program get a ëreality education day,íî she said. ìThey get a bit of a lecture, get to see some videos, then go through stations that either simulate distracted driving, or they have to wear drunk goggles and try to perform a roadside sobriety test.îThe P.A.R.T.Y. program was developed in Canada and brought to the UCH in 2007, Schmitter said. It is geared toward students from middle school all the way through college, depending on the content presented, she said. The program was recently expanded to the Colorado Springs area and Falcon Fire Protection District firefighter Matt Gibbs serves as the local program coordinator, she said. ìThrough a coordinator like Matt, we can bring the program to a school or a youth group,î Schmitter said. ìOverall, we talk about thinking about the choices that you make and think about how itís going to affect other people if something happens to you or if you kill someone. Weíve heard lots of testimonials from people who say they are alive because of having been through the program.îìThereís plenty of history that shows that distracted driving kills people or results in serious injury,î Pace said. ìAnd itís become such a major problem.îFor more information on the P.A.R.T.Y. program, visit http://uch. edu/PARTY.

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