Scott C. Gottlieb & Associates, LLP Annual Scholarship Essay Contest Winner

The New Russian Roulette Game for Teens

by Christina Erickson

Scott C. Gottlieb & Associates Scholarship Winner Christina EricksonRussian Roulette is a potentially fatal game of chance. “Russian” refers to the country of origin and “roulette” to the gambler’s use of a spinning roulette wheel to make high-risk, high stake bets. Traditionally, the game is played by placing one bullet in a multi-chambered revolver type handgun. Each player takes turns placing the gun’s muzzle against their head and pulls the trigger. Because only one chamber is loaded, each player has a one in X chance (X being the number of chambers) of receiving the bullet into their head and dying. What teenager in their right mind would play such a game?

While the average teenager would not place a gun to their and pull the trigger, each day teenagers text while driving. Whether or not they realize it, they are playing a form of Russian Roulette with their cell phones. The rules of the “game” match texting statistics: For at least five seconds, take your attention away from the road while traveling 55 MPH on a two –lane highway while texting; travel the length of a football field while not looking at the road; spend at least ten percent of your driving time in the wrong lane. See if you can do this eighty times before crashing. Know in advance that texting makes a crash twenty-three times more likely to occur and that 3,000 teens die each year, approximately ten teens per day, in crashes caused by texting while driving. Beware that texting while driving is now the leading cause of death amongst teenagers, surpassing drunk driving.

The problem of texting while driving has escalated to the point where a new phrase has been coined, “driving while ‘intexticated.” In a study cited by the American Council on Science and Health, seventy-one percent of the teenagers interviewed said reading and receiving texts and emails is unacceptable while driving, yet forty-five percent admit to doing it, especially when alone in the car. Why is texting so urgent to teens and worth risking safety to do it? Knowing the rules of the “game,” why do they say that it’s unacceptable but do it anyway? The answer is entrenched in adolescent biology and contemporary culture.

Everyone knows adolescents have a reputation as social butterflies, thrill-seeking risk takers, prone to loving someone one minute and hating them the next. Two regions in the teen brain play a role: the prefrontal cortex and the limbic system. Impulsivity is a lack of cognitive control and is mediated by the prefrontal cortex- the last brain region to fully develop. Risk-taking is linked to a part of the brain called the limbic system. It lies deep below the cortex and is involved with judging incentives and emotional information. Unlike the slowly maturing prefrontal cortex (cognitive control), the limbic system is almost completely developed by adolescence and its activity intensified by the huge surge in adolescent emotions. This means that when a risky choice has a strong emotional incentive, such as peer approval or social connection, the fully developed, incentive-driven limbic system wins out over the immature prefrontal cortex. It also means that a teenager may seem to have less common sense than a nine year old. (About Kids Health.com “My limbic system made me do it.”) Where texting is concerned, the teen behind the driver’s wheel can experience the “tyranny of the urgent.” The gratification of immediately responding to a friend’s text message takes precedence over common sense and knowledge that texting while driving a car is dangerous. This is why education alone is not sufficient to prevent a teen from driving while “intexticated.”

Modern culture in general, and youth culture in particular also play a large role in the prevalence of distracted driving. We live in a fast –paced culture of entertainment, instant gratification and immediate response: reality television, high-tech media, Facebook. Teens are trained to excel in being quick reactors through video games and Facebook promotes and promises instant response and social connection. It is not realistic that a teenager trained by the culture to be one way, could be trusted to enter a car and suddenly be a different way: to make a counter-cultural decision to delay social and emotional gratification. This is why the solutions to driving while “intexticated” cannot be left to the individual teen, their parents, or even their school. Their efforts are important to raise awareness, but insufficient to solve the problem. Likewise, stricter laws have not slowed the momentum of the driving and texting problem. ACSH cites findings that state: “When we compared states where there are no laws in effect (barring texting while operating a moving vehicle) and states where there are laws on the books, we found there was no difference in their responses.” The writer concludes, “Clearly, the laws are not effective.”(ACSH). ACSH’s assistant director of public health, Ariel Savransky, says “This is clearly a huge public health issue…making this practice illegal has not had a huge impact.” The entire culture pushes against the efforts of the individual, family, and schools by promoting and rewarding behaviors and values diametrically opposed to the anti-texting campaigns.

Just as technology has been developed to prevent drunk drivers from driving, such as the ignition interlock device, innovations to prevent texting while driving are on the rise. Since teens engage in the riskiest behaviors when parents are not in the car, vehicle equipped technologies already exist where parents can control a car’s top speed, seatbelt usage, and the volume of the stereo without being in the car. Specifically targeting texting, apps such as Zoomsafer limits the ability to text, email, or make phone calls while driving. WiseDrive automatically detects when vehicle is moving at high speed, disables audio text messaging notifications and replies to inform the contact that the recipient is not available. DriveSafely.Pro reads texts and emails aloud and the app responds to sender without the driver having to touch a button.

So is there a solution. Shakespeare, in King John (1595) wrote: “Be stirring as the time, be fire with fire.” This reminds me of the common saying used by trappers on the American prairie, “Fight fire with fire.” Both phrases hold a potential solution to the texting and driving solution: fight technology with technology. Anti-texting devices, along with behavior modification techniques, such as a wrist band phone guard reading “TXTING KILLS” that helps teens through the first twenty-one days of forming a new habit of not texting while driving, hold the greatest promise. Remove texting while driving from the realm of individual choice and make it a technological impossibility. Only then will “intexticated” teens be safe on the road with their cell phones.

References

“Texting and Driving: leading Cause of Death Among Teens” 5/9/13 American Council on Science and Health ACSH (www.acsh.org) Web. 1p. 14 July 2014

“Do Reminders Really Stop Texting and Driving?” by Robert Edgin, 4/6/14 (www.textinganddrivingsafety.com) Statistics; Web. 2p. 14 July 2014

“My Limbic System Made Me Do It,” www.aboutkidshealth.ca , Web. 2p. 14 July 2014

“Teens Texting and Driving”, U.S Department of Health and Human Services, HHS Healthbeat, 6/26/13 (www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/news/e-updates/eupdate-9.html) Web. 1p. 14 July 2014

“What is an ignition interlocking device?” (www.lifesafer.com), Web. 1p. 14 July 2014
“11 Facts About Texting and Driving,” (www.Beta.Do Something.org), Web. 1 p. 14 July 2014

“Russian Roulette,” (www.en.wikipedia.org), Web. 1 p. 14 July 2014

Last Updated Oct. 2, 2014