Nineteen-year-old Austin Wierschke of Rhinelander is the Aaron Rodgers of texting.
Twice a world champion in speed texting, Austin is passionately opposed to texting or talking on the phone while driving. Three years ago Austin's older brother, Jordan, rolled the family vehicle while reaching for something in the back. Jordan walked away from the crash but the family was changed forever.
"You're not just risking your life by texting or talking in the car," said Austin, "you're putting everyone in your car at risk and anyone who is near you."
The dangers of distracted driving won't surprise anyone but there are thousands of people nationwide dying every year in preventable accidents. What might surprise you is that parents are the single biggest influence on our teens driving habits.
A survey of emergency room patients by Milwaukee's Froedert Hospital showed some 70% of teenagers said it was mom or dad who most closely influenced their driving. These same teens who roll their eyes at anything parents say are also watching closely how they drive.
Teens and parents reported identical driving distractions all of which had distracted them in the last month. Raise your hands parents if you've been distracted by changing the radio or my two personal favorites - an unexpected text message or eating in the car. Experience shows that multitasking is simply a good way to do two things poorly which can have fatal consequences. It is like playing Russian roulette on the highway.
Nearly 90% from the Froedert poll said they, a family member or a close friend had been in a car crash but more than half said it didn't change their driving habits. It's always easier to blame the other guy than to look at your own dangerous driving habits.
There are options to block texting or calling from the car but there is a common flaw. Many of the apps only work if they are engaged. There are more advanced models to block incoming texts and calls if the car is moving. My favorite app will notify their parents if their youngster tries to text while the car is moving. Many are free while some have a monthly or a one-time charge.
April is End Distracted Driving month. Every month we ignore the problem or blame the other guy it only gets worse. In 2012, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 107 people died in accidents where inattentive driving was a contributing factor. Now, here's the number that boggles my mind. At least one person was injured somewhere in Wisconsin every hour of every day for the entire year in a crash where inattentive driving was a factor. Someone injured every hour of every day for an entire year?
Think about that the next time you read a text while driving a car. It takes about five seconds to read and if you're going 55 mph that's the same as driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. That's why we had nearly 22,000 "inattentive driving" accidents in Wisconsin in 2012. Staggering numbers when multiplied by 49 more states and the District of Columbia.
All parents carry the challenge of being a role model for their kids. The next time the phone rings in the car pull over to answer it. Instant street cred and it's safer. Those apps that stop young people from using a cell phone in a car work on parents' phones too.
Don't think of "End Distracted Driving," as an abstract concept because it isn't. Your kids can stop and you can stop. Just ask the 10,447 Wisconsinites who were hurt in an inattentive driving accident in 2012. Don't keep rolling the dice.