If fines and license suspension weren’t enough to keep Darien’s teens away from their cellphones while driving, the state attorney general is joining a campaign to prevent teens and young adults from texting while driving.
The campaign released a new public service announcement that uses a crash scene from the television series “Glee.” The clip shows “Glee” star Diana Agron sending a text that causes her character to be involved in an accident with a truck. It will run in various advertising times and spaces that are donated by the media.
The ad emphasizes the short amount of time, only five seconds according to the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration, that a person’s eyes are off the road if they are texting and driving at 55 miles per hour. At that speed, a person will drive the length of a football field and can cause or be involved in a traumatic and preventable crash.
“Driving is one of the most dangerous activities for young adults,” Attorney General George Jepsen wrote in a press release. “Texting while driving is a distraction that young drivers can live without.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association reported that more than in 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed and 416,000 injured, as a result of distracted driving. After four years of strict teen driving laws, the Connecticut DMV reported that there was one teen driver fatality this year compared to 7 in 2007.
A survey from the Ad Council supported the trend, with 34% of people surveyed saying that they never text while driving. It was 28% in 2011.
The campaign is sponsored by the State Attorney General, in addition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Consumer Protection Agencies, the Ad Council, Twentieth Century Fox Television and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Teens and young adults will find more videos and tips on how to avoid texting on the road at stoptextsstopwrecks.org
In addition to being under the jurisdiction of state and federal campaigns, Darien uses its students and police department to promote safe driving. The police department always increases the patrol around the high school at the beginning of the school year, not to target the students but to insure their safety with increased traffic, said Sgt. Jeremiah Marron. He added that with more commuters in the area and higher traffic volume, there is a higher probability of accidents.
Officer Court Isaac is on a motorcycle, patrolling the area when students leave school. He said that he “hardly ever” sees a teen driving and texting. Isaac attributes the decrease in part to strict state laws and intervention from the high school.
If a 16 or 17-year-old driver is stopped for using their cell phone, even with a hands-free device, their license is suspended for 30 days, plus they will pay a $175 license restoration fee and court fines. On a second and third offense, the teen driver will lose their license for 90 days and 6 months, respectively, with the same fees in place.
The police department enforces a school program called “DHS, Driving Home Safely.” The student parking permit application notes that the first time a student receives a moving violation, which would include phone use, “within a one mile radius of [the school] during morning arrival, while school is in session, or during afternoon dismissal,” they lose parking privileges for two weeks. If they receive any additional citations, the student loses parking for an academic quarter.
“Kids really want to park at school. If you take that away, they will do anything they can to have that privilege back,” said Emily Caccaam, a senior and President of Students Against Destructive Decisions about the power of the parking rule.
Darien’s Students Against Destructive Decisions is part of a national program. In recent years, the Darien chapter sponsored a “Safety Fair” at the high school which included crash-simulaton, safe driving pledges, and thumb rings that reminded students that “txting kills.”
The group creates a safe driving video every year for a contest sponsored by Travelers Insurance and the Department of Motor Vehicles. The 2012 video, which earned fifth place and $1,000, is available on the under the account “teensafedriving12” on YouTube.com. It depicted a girl crashing her car while on the phone. An earlier part of the video showed a young girl mimicking her mother’s cell phone use while the mother was driving. It was a criticism of parents who do not realize that their children learn from their behaviors.
The attention to something that has become a “cultural norm” is necessary, according to Kristi Carey, former president of the Darien chapter. SADD works to get people talking about the issue and the possible consequences of driving distracted, she said.
In March 2012, a 16-year-old New Canaan girl killed a jogger while she was using her phone. She was charged with negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and will be tried as an adult. The charge comes with a maximum sentence of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the state library website.
Though Darien hasn’t seen its own tragedy, the event affected students in town.
“The New Canaan girl is our version of a community tragedy,” said Caccaam, current President of SADD. “People know the story, even if they don’t know the actual girl.”
Caccaam, who used to live in New Canaan remembered the girl from class. She acknowledged that it might take a major event to get teens to stop using their phones, but she hopes that it won’t come to that.
At meetings, the group is usually split between “should it be a scared-straight kind of thing or should it be positive reinforcement,” Caccaam said. For their own video messages, and with the new PSA coming from the state level, their group has to figure out what is most effective. “A lot of people have been coming out recently for positive reinforcement. It’s not always as effective as we want it to be.”
The story of the girl from New Canaan might have “scared people straight,” Caccaam said. “They don’t want to be labeled with [a crime] with them for the rest of their life.”