Friday Night Live youth observe distracted driving behaviors in sixth-annual statewide Roadwatch assessment

Published on October 31, 2016

Drivers distracted by phones, passengers, pets, food and much more drove past California schools on Tuesday morning, Oct. 11, visibly unfocused on what should be their only task behind the wheel: responsible, safe driving. Indications across California reveal that distracted driving remains a prevalent threat to pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.

On Oct. 11, Friday Night Live members surveyed 119 intersections near high schools and middle schools in 33 counties across California and observed 12,852 cases of distracted driving in just one hour’s time - an average of 108 instances per intersection surveyed. That means that at any given minute between 7:00 and 8:00 am, there were at least 214 distracted drivers in California – in that one minute. These results show an increase in distracted driving behaviors of over 2.5 percent since 2015 when 12,569 instances were recorded at 119 intersections during Roadwatch.

FNL is part of Placer County’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Program, which aims to prevent substance abuse and its related consequences by empowering communities, families and individuals to adopt healthy behaviors.

In front of two Placer County schools alone (Western Sierra Collegiate Academy in Rocklin and Oakmont High School in Roseville), FNL members of the Placer County Youth Commission observed more than 140 accounts of distracted driving during their Roadwatch assessment of two intersections, for an average of 70 instances recorded per location and an average of two instances of distracted driving per minute.

Driven by a desire to improve traffic safety in their local communities and empowered by a grant from The Allstate Foundation through the California Friday Night Live Partnership, students compiled startling statistics from among thousands of vehicles they observed with both attentive and distracted drivers. Distractions during this learning-focused Roadwatch ranged from the all-too-typical hand-held use of a cell phone to the less-often-observed kissing, eating with utensils and using a tablet. Each distraction observed is highly dangerous and 100 percent avoidable.

Statewide, the top distractions while driving observed were:

  • Use of hand-held device: 4,314 total, 36 per site average
  • Eating or drinking: 3,565 total, 30 per site average
  • Personal grooming: 1,391 total, 12 per site averageReaching for an item: 1,218 total, 10 per site average

Distractions Defined: More than just cell phone use, distracted driving is categorized by California Highway Patrol as a range of activities that impact a driver’s visual, auditory, physical or cognitive abilities when driving.

Distracted Driving Will Cost You: In California, a first citation for texting and driving is $162. Not only will it cost you monetarily, according to the California Highway Patrol, a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if they text while driving.

CFNLP organizes this Allstate Foundation-funded Roadwatch, as well as the annual Youth Summit, which drew over 700 participants last September. The aim is to empower young people to raise awareness among drivers of all ages about the importance of eliminating distractions and promoting safe, focused driving behaviors.

In 2011, empowered by their research and armed with their Roadwatch results, students of Magnolia High School in Orange County successfully obtained funding for the city to install a crosswalk and traffic light near their school. In 2012, with Roadwatch data in hand, students in Watsonville appeared before the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to re-prioritize ranking for the re-engineering of a local street to acquire sidewalks in order to improve pedestrian safety. Throughout the years, young people in multiple cities throughout California have worked with local businesses that employ drivers to develop and implement safe driving policies. Year after year, Roadwatch proves to be a vital tool for not only raising awareness about the issue of distracted driving, but also for creating real change in traffic safety throughout California.

“Reducing distractions behind the wheel is something we all can do — it costs nothing and its savings are enormous,” said Freddy Santos, Allstate’s senior corporate relations manager for California. “When we choose to drive safer, we improve the safety of everyone on the road at the same time."

“Engaging California’s young people in this way encourages their positive and healthy development and empowers them to become active leaders,” says Jim Kooler, CFNLP administrator. “Programs like our annual Youth Summit and Roadwatch allow California youth to lead their peers in reducing distracted driving collisions."

A noteworthy anecdote in Placer County was that student observer/data recorders from Oakmont High School recognized that the closer it was to the start of school, the more distracted driving behaviors they observed. The lesson here could be to plan ahead better for those few extra minutes before heading out the door so you don’t have the temptation to distract yourself.

Not Just Cell Phones

Additional driving distractions observed by this year’s Roadwatch participants:

  • Extreme volume on radio: 641 total
  • Pet on driver’s lap: 396 total
  • Smoking or vaping: 325 total
  • Passengers: 317 total

Traffic crashes remain the number one killer of young people ages 15-24 in America. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2014, 3,179 people were killed and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. A 2013 California Traffic Safety Survey revealed that nearly 70 percent of California drivers surveyed said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone.

Active in 52 counties statewide, CFNLP engages young people to become active leaders and resources in their communities. For more information about Friday Night Live, visit their website.