Texting, road rage among dangers discussed at teen ethics of driving class

Teen drivers are involved in more crashes than any other demographic, primarily due to poor decision making, Officer William Honomichl of the Tucson Police Department Traffic Division told a group of about 35 teens and parents on Nov. 1 at Congregation Or Chadash.

“You’re Driving Me Nuts,” a driver’s education program from a Jewish perspective, focused not just on how to make good choices behind the wheel, but why it’s crucial — 100 percent of the time.

“Your job is to arrive home safely to the family who loves you,” said Sharon Glassberg, quoting Judge Alex Mundy of the National Traffic Safety Institute. Glassberg is director of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Coalition for Jewish Education, which cosponsored the program with Tucson Hebrew High and Or Chadash.

The leading causes of accidents among teens are speed, inexperience and distraction. Although distracted driving includes talking to passengers or on a phone, as well as eating and other activities that take your attention off the road, the speakers focused primarily on the dangers of texting while driving.

According to Hon. Michael Kagen of the Tucson City Court, texting reduces your reaction time to that of a 70-year-old when you’re behind the wheel. If you’re driving 40-50 miles per hour and you take your eyes off the road for just five seconds, it’s like driving the length of a football field blindfolded. The penalty for texting while driving in the city of Tucson is $255.

Fortunately, there’s now an app for that. Local entrepreneur David Hazan presented information about his new mobile app “Down for the Count,” which rewards distraction-free driving. For details, visit DFTCapp.com.

Kagen and Honomichl also discussed traffic laws teens may not be aware of. For example, under the “baby DUI” law, if you are under 21 and arrested for driving with any alcohol in your system, you can lose your license for up to three years and the car you are driving — even if it belongs to someone else, like your parents — can be impounded for a month. Also, if you are the driver and anyone in your car has alcohol with them, your license can be suspended.

Other words of advice for safe driving from the traffic cop and the judge:

• Avoid road rage: Don’t yell at other drivers because you don’t know how they’ll react.

• Be a patient driver and let others merge ahead of you. Don’t push for position.

• Turn or pass other cars only when you can see that the road is clear. Don’t trust other drivers to “wave you on.”

• Put your cell phone on airplane mode or “do not disturb” when you’re driving.

• Drive with an adult, even after you get your license, so they can give you feedback about your driving.

• Wear a seat belt every time you get in the car — and make sure your passengers do, too.

• If your passengers are distracting you, speak up and ask them to be quiet, for their own safety.

The Tucson Police Foundation and TPD offer a behind-the-wheel class for 16- to 19-year-old licensed drivers, which provides critical information on decision-making, judgment and basic driving skills related to commonly encountered collision factors. The five-hour sessions cost $25 (suggested donation). For more information about Safe Teen Accident Reduction Training, visit tucsonpolicefoundation.org.

Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Or Chadash handed out a safe driving agreement for parents and teens to customize and sign. He encouraged parents to set clear expectations and consequences. He emphasized that parents should model the driving behaviors they want their teens to follow — and hold both sides accountable for it in the contract.

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ozeri@yahoo.com.