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Youth program finds distracted driving an issue in Turlock
distracted driving
In October, members of the Friday Night Live Stanislaus County chapter observed intersections near Turlock High School for distracted driving. - photo by KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal

Drivers distracted by phones, passengers, pets, food and much more run rampant on roads across the country every day, and recently, a group of teens saw firsthand just how prevalent the issue of distracted driving is right here in Turlock.

In October, members of the Friday Night Live Stanislaus County chapter, a program advised by Center for Human Services staff which builds partnerships for positive and healthy youth development, witnessed drivers visibly unfocused on what should be their only task behind the wheel – responsible, safe driving.

Through the California FLN Partnership annual Roadwatch survey, FNL members observed 88 intersections near high schools and middle schools in 30 counties across California, including two main intersections near Turlock High School: Colorado Avenue and Canal Drive, and N. Berkeley Avenue and Main Street.

Over the course of an hour, the Stanislaus County chapter of FNL observed 176 accounts of distracted driving during their Roadwatch assessment – 88 of which occurred in Turlock.

Pitman High School sophomore Taylor Dillon participated in the survey, and kept watch over the Colorado Avenue and Canal Drive intersection.

“Distracted driving can turn into anything in the blink of an eye, like a big car accident,” said Dillon. “If you’re not paying attention to the road, then you’re putting your life in danger and the lives of anyone around you.”

Dillon witnessed about 45 instances of distracted driving at the intersection located in front of THS, but pointed out that a majority of those occurrences were not drivers using their cell phones while operating their vehicles, but drivers eating behind the wheel.

“You’d be surprised by what the biggest distraction was, which was eating or drinking,” she said.

More than just cell phone use, distracted driving is categorized by the California Highway Patrol as a range of activities that impact a driver’s visual, auditory, physical or cognitive abilities when driving. Of the 88 distracted incidents students tallied in Turlock, 36 involved eating or drinking, 25 involved the use of a handheld device, 21 involved personal grooming and 17 involved the use of a hands-free device.

While programs like Every 15 Minutes have helped reduce texting and driving incidents among teens, Dillon said there is still work to be done. She often sees classmates using their phones while driving – specifically, recording videos on snapchat.

“I don’t think people realize how much distracted driving there really is in the community,” said Dillon. “Something should be done about it soon before it gets worse, especially with my generation.”

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 study revealed that nearly 70% of California drivers surveyed said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver who was talking or texting on a cell phone.

“People need to think about what they do while they’re behind the wheel,” said Dillon. “Their actions could take a toll on someone’s life in a matter of seconds.”