Distracted Driving
Stricter Licensing Requirements Aim to Combat Distracted Driving

The Texas Department of Public Safety is implementing policy changes to make sure all new drivers understand the dangers of driving while distracted.

In 2015, TxDPS debuted its Impact Texas Teen Drivers program, which requires drivers ages 16 and 17 to complete a course on distracted driving before taking their driver’s test. But people applying for their first driver’s license at age 18 or older haven’t had to fulfill the same requirement.

In May 2017, TxDPS announced its Impact Texas Young Drivers program, which, as of Sept. 1, requires all drivers applying for their first license to complete a free, one-hour distracted driving course before taking their skills test. And any new driver age 24 or younger must also complete a six-hour driver education course. In 2018, TxDPS will introduce its Impact Texas Adult Drivers course, specifically for new drivers age 25 and older (but until then, those drivers will take the ITYD course that debuted this year).

In the August press release announcing these changes, TxDPS director Steven McCraw said, “This new component of the department’s distracted driving initiative uses research and compelling true stories to highlight the many risks facing drivers. This important program is designed to provide Texas drivers with critical information to help keep their focus on driving – and to ultimately save lives on Texas roadways.”

The Dangers of Distraction

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, crashes involving a distracted driver kill nine people and injure more than 1,000 every day. In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in distracted-driving crashes – that’s fewer injuries than in the prior year, but the number of distracted-driving deaths increased from 32,744 in 2014 to 35,092 in 2015.

Because public awareness campaigns and media coverage have focused heavily on the dangers of cellphone use and texting while driving, it’s safe to say most drivers are aware they’re taking a risk any time they engage with their phone while driving. But distraction comes in many forms, and drivers may not even realize that the behaviors they engage in while driving are dangerous.

Any activity that diverts a driver’s attention raises the risk of a crash. That includes daydreaming, talking with passengers, adjusting dashboard controls, looking at an object that’s alongside the road, and other actions. Drivers who are distracted in more than one way may have an even higher crash risk.

Taking a Stand on Distraction

It’s not always easy for drivers to ask passengers to be quiet, but sometimes that may be necessary in order to drive safely. Passengers can also speak up if they feel a driver is engaging in dangerous distractions – in fact, among teens, peer pressure is particularly effective in changing driver behaviors.

There’s no law against sipping a cup of coffee while driving, even though that’s known to be a distraction. Regardless, laws alone will not eliminate distracted driving. Citizens will need to take a critical look at their own behavior and be willing to eliminate distractions before we achieve a marked decrease in distracted driving crashes.