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Just drive: Students promote options for distracted drivers

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Posted: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 11:50 pm | Updated: 4:15 pm, Fri Jan 25, 2013.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial

FAIRBANKS — A group of students at West Valley High School has confirmed with a survey what might seem obvious — many young people are driving while distracted by their phones.

The students didn’t stop there, though. They set out to promote safer alternatives with a campaign to encourage people to “just drive.” They’re holding school assemblies this week and have created a clever one-minute animated public service announcement that could be coming to television stations in the area. It’s a commendable effort.

The members of the technical writing class received surveys from more than 1,000 students in the local school district. Eleven percent of the students reported texting while driving. That’s a misdemeanor criminal offense under state law, but only about half the surveyed students knew it.

Texting isn’t the only distracting behavior. There are all sorts of things that people do with their phones that take their eyes from the road. After reviewing the statistics and reading about the tragedies caused by this, the West Valley students concluded that drivers need some practical alternatives.

They think a person’s best option is to simply put the cellphone out of reach when driving a car. However, they realize that many people are unlikely to do so.

In an interview last week at the News-Miner, some of the students endorsed new cellphone settings that will reply automatically to any incoming texts with a message saying the recipient is driving. This literally could be a life-saver.

Our expectations of proper communication etiquette have been transformed within a few years as cellphones and texting have become ubiquitous. Many people, not just teens, feel pressure to reply rapidly to incoming calls and texts. They themselves expect prompt attention. Such expectations drive people toward dangerous and illegal behavior.

The students are right. Everyone needs to know that they can and should opt out at certain times. The more tools they have to do so and the more support they get for doing so, the better.

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