Editor: National Teen Driver Safety Week is Oct. 16-22, 2011. To learn more about 4-H CARTEENS, contact James L. Jordan at or email@example.com. To learn more about the State Farm Insurance philanthropic funding program that includes Ohio, contact Kimberly Lust, State Farm Insurance public affairs specialist, at or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAMILTON, Ohio -- Distracted driving can be deadly, particularly to teens. In fact, motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of death for U.S. teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash.
But thanks to a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance, teens around the state will have access to a new tool to learn about the dangers of distracted driving.
In Ohio, 48 counties offer the 4-H CARTEENS program, a safe-driving intervention program coordinated by Ohio State University Extension's 4-H Youth Development Program. Of those, 38 counties participated in the State Farm grant that purchased the "BRDrivingSimExm" simulators to use in CARTEENS.
James L. Jordan, Extension educator based in Butler County, examined the effectiveness of 4-H CARTEENS last year as part of his Ph.D. program. More than 8,400 Ohio teens participate each year in 4-H CARTEENS, which is taught by teenage volunteers primarily to first-time juvenile traffic offenders. Most of the teen instructors have gone through 4-H CARTEENS program themselves; they're mentored by juvenile court judges, Ohio State Highway Patrol officers and 4-H youth development educators.
"My research showed that distracted driving was the No. 1 risky driving behavior, even more than speeding," Jordan said. "The teens performed some type of distracted driving about 30 times a month -- whether it was texting, playing with the radio, horsing around with other people in the car, eating, putting on makeup, even shaving. It's surprising the stuff people -- not just teens -- do behind the wheel of a car. And since teens are very inexperienced drivers, they're particularly at greater risk."
The driving simulators, which consist of software that connects a computer screen with the simulator's steering wheel, accelerator and stick shift, offer 28 different distracted-driving scenarios in both urban and rural settings.
The simulators that were purchased under the August 2011 grant arrived just last week, but last winter, the 4-H CARTEENS program in Wood County obtained a driving simulator thanks to a separate $1,000 grant from State Farm Insurance. Adding the simulator to the program has made an impact, said Jayne Roth, 4-H youth development educator for OSU Extension in Wood County.
"When they sit down behind the wheel, they act like it's a video game," Roth said. "But there are so many different scenarios with the simulator, and when you add the Fatal Vision Goggles (used to simulate different blood alcohol levels), and add texting -- they see pretty quickly that they just can't drive that way."
Last week in Butler County, 4-H CARTEENS instructor Chelsea Smith, 19, visited the Extension office and helped install the simulator software.
"I think it will do a lot of good for our program," Smith said. "It will show what things can be distracting when you're driving. It will definitely be more interactive -- hands-on activities help with the learning process."
In his research, Jordan found that teens who complete 4-H CARTEENS improve their driving significantly: Their risky driving behaviors decline by more than a third. Some parents of those mandated to attend are so impressed with their teen's response to the program that they pay for younger siblings who may have just received their learner's permit to participate, Jordan said.
"I want to express our gratitude to State Farm Insurance for taking an active interest in the 4-H CARTEENS program," Jordan said. "This simulator is phenomenal. It will be exciting to see the teens use it."