Allstate challenge teaches dangers of texting while driving

May 11th, 2010 | By Hot News Reporter | Category: Insurance Today

(Montgomery Life) – Teenagers Joe Bennett of East Vincent and Morgan Scott of Harleysville learned that mixing driving with texting or talking on a cell phone could be a recipe for disaster.

Bennett, 18, and Scott, 16, squashed fluorescent yellow traffic cones Monday as they tried to maneuver vehicles through an advanced driving course while purposely distracted by phone calls, texting and rowdy passengers as part of Allstate Insurance Company’s “Family Driving Challenge.”

“All of my friends are going to hear about this one,” Scott said while getting out of the driver’s seat of her family’s blue Saturn sedan after she skewered several traffic cones while talking on the cell phone and driving. “I will tell them how dangerous it is to drive on the phone … and that you need both hands on the wheel all the time.

“I learned that I can’t drive while talking to anybody, to hang up the phone pretty fast,” added Bennett, revealing his mother Dee’s rule about not using the cell phone while driving was reinforced when he was forced to do so. “It’s nearly impossible for me to try.”

Dee Bennett said the event was an eye-opening occasion.

“You actually experience what can happen if you’re talking on a cell phone to somebody who’s asking you questions or making plans and you see that if you have to avoid something you don’t have the capability of doing it,” Dee Bennett said. “It’s evident to me, whether I am a driver or a passenger or the person in the other car, it’s just not a good idea.”

Scott’s mother, Penni, said the safe driving rules she set for her daughter were reinforced through the driving challenge.

“You can tell her a million times that it’s not safe to pick up your phone when you’re driving, but to have her actually do it, and run over just about every cone on the course, I think drove the point home,” Penni Scott said.

Allstate sponsored the driving challenge, a controlled environment with professional driving instructors, on the parking lot of the King of Prussia Mall complex to draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving practices.

“It provides both the parent and the teen a hands-on experience of what these distractions do to their ability to drive,” explained Tracey King, spokeswoman for Allstate. “It absolutely drills the point home.”

A total of eight families participated in the event, during which teens and their parents were timed as they navigated a series of traffic cones, first without distractions, and then with distractions, such as cell phone usage and disruptive passengers.

The families, who hailed from Montgomery, Berks and Chester counties, were selected through area Allstate agents.

One by one, as the teenagers, and then their parents, navigated the course, the traffic cones went flying across the parking lot as distractions were added to the mix. Professional driving instructors from Swerve, a Washington state organization that assists Allstate with the challenge, called the drivers on cell phones as they navigated the course and the drivers were forced to read a text message sent to them while driving.

“With the introduction of distractions they truly can’t navigate through the course as safely as they were able to undistracted,” said King, adding each cone that was struck resulted in a five-second penalty to the driver’s course time.

The teenager who was able to navigate the course in the fastest time with the least number of cones struck was considered the victor.

The event also provided Allstate officials the chance to show their support for pending Pennsylvania House Bill 67, which would provide more stringent restrictions for teen drivers, including prohibiting the use of all interactive wireless devices by drivers with a learner’s permit or junior license. The bill, passed by the House in April 2009, is currently in the state Senate and some senators have proposed amendments that supporters believe will weaken the bill.

A vote on the bill in the Senate could come as early as May 24.

“People who influence lawmakers are more likely to be the parents, rather than the teens themselves. So we’re putting our stake in the ground saying that this bill is important to ensure that our teens make it home each and every time they take the responsibility behind the wheel of a vehicle,” King said.

In addition to banning cell phone usage by driving teens the bill would: restrict the number of underage passengers in vehicles operated by teens; add 15 hours of practical driving experience as a prerequisite to the holder of a learner’s permit under 18 before obtaining a junior license; and make it a primary offense to not wear a seat belt for drivers and front seat occupants under 18.

Penni Scott supports the restrictions proposed under the bill and said the law would help “back up” rules set by parents. She added parents who might have a difficult time saying no to their children can rely on the law to help them enforce driving rules.

“I think they would be putting our children at risk to weaken the law,” said Penni Scott, who urged legislators not to water down the proposed restrictions.

Dee Bennett said she supports House Bill 67 “100 percent” and even suggested it doesn’t go far enough. She recalled that she didn’t allow her daughter to have any passengers in the car for six months after she obtained a license. After six months, she allowed only one passenger in her daughter’s car.

“It’s tough as a parent but I think it’s good if you have a law that reinforces it,” said Dee Bennett, also urging lawmakers not to weaken the proposed law. “It’s much safer to have your eyes on the road and have your hands on the wheel than to be distracted by anything. A passenger alone is a distraction.”

Parents were included in the driving challenge after a recent study by the Allstate Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of the teens surveyed indicated their parents were the “biggest influencers on their driving habits,” King said.

“Teens are watching what their parents are doing while driving and it influences their behavior. This is why it is so important for parents to put down their phones, limit their distractions and overall, set a good example in the car for their teens,” said King. “The significance of (the survey) was that it was contrary to normal beliefs that teens look to their peers for information on how to behave. We were pleasantly surprised to hear that on this very important topic that they truly do look to their parents for advice behind the wheel.”

King said Allstate also has developed a “tool kit” for parents to help them begin the discussion about safe driving techniques with their teenagers. Known as Allstate’s “Parent-Teen Driving Contract,” the information is available online at or at local Allstate agencies.

The King of Prussia driving challenge was the fourth of 38 that Allstate is sponsoring nationwide this year.


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