11/25/2013 06:20 EST | Updated 01/25/2014 05:59 EST

Police Invite Calgary Teens To Text And Drive

In light of recent discussions surrounding distracted driving and enforcing stricter laws from the Alberta Transportation Minister, Ford Canada recently conducted a national survey on the habits of teen and parent drivers to bring awareness to the dangers of distracted driving and encourage discussion about safe driving.

I was invited by Brookline Public Relations Inc. to join the members of the Calgary Police Service, Universal Ford, and students from Henry Wise Wood High School on a cold winter November day for the Ford Distracted Driving Event.

All attendees got the opportunity to learn first-hand how texting and other distractions affect a driver's capabilities through a variety of activities and demonstrations.

There were three demonstrations highlighting safety features in vehicles for young drivers, recreating impaired driving conditions, and a "texting while driving with a police officer" demo.

I covered the safety features of the Ford Focus ST (one of the Ford vehicles at the demo event) on my blog site. If you are interested to learn more about the 2014 Focus ST and the safety features applicable for young drivers, click here.

The impaired driving conditions was created by usage of special goggles that one had to put on that essentially recreated the visual perception one would have when heavily intoxicated (4x the legal limit)!

The officer had the participant walk a straight line and carry out a series of tasks on command. Take a look at the video below to see the effect it has on the participant. Funny to watch under controlled conditions, yes, but just imagine if this person was actually behind the wheels of vehicle on Alberta roads on a path directly/indirectly of you or your loved ones.

[you may need to turn up the speaker volume to hear the officer's command]

For the texting while driving demo, I got in the back seat of a demo vehicle with Constable Mark Smith with the Calgary Police. The test driver was a teacher from the high school and accompanied with a Universal Ford representative who provided the driving and texting instructions. The objective for the driver was to navigate the short demo track (demarcated by marker cones on the ground) while texting. Check out the video below on how the demo plays out. I believe a couple of cones were knocked down and the resulting text message ended up as gibberish.

While the event was a playful take impaired driving and texting while driving, albeit under controlled conditions, it definitely got the message across to the participants about the dangers of such behavior.

According to recent statistic from Calgary Police Service:

Stats from this year for the months of January to August show that 519 collisions involved distracted driving. 473 of these resulted in property damage, 46 resulted in injuries.

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Of particular concern is the rise of such accidents among the young drivers who are pre-disposed to growing up with texting on phones and simultaneously not having the benefit of years of driving experience on the road. With a strange twist of fate and irony mixed in, one of the demo vehicles at this demo event was rear-ended on its way to the high school by, yes you guessed it, someone texting and driving in the other vehicle!

What can we do to reduce this statistic of accidents caused by distracted driving if not entirely eliminate it? While legislation and punitive recourse exists, society cannot rely entirely on enforcement to save the day. What if an alternate solution exists, albeit an unproven one for distracted driving. Dan Ariely is an accomplished author and a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University and MIT. He proposed a hypothesis that when we get people to contemplate on their morality, they reduced their cheating behavior. You can read his books [they are very entertaining], listen to his TED lectures [even more interesting], or for those on time-lite, just this article. The basic premise of the hypothesis is that the more one engages in an honor pledge, the less likely one is to engage in behavior contrary to the pledge. Repetition helps.

What implications can this have on road safety and the automobile industry? Well, imagine if every time you got inside a vehicle that greeted you with a welcome message, and a pledge of not texting while driving, your subconscious mind just might turn on its morality checkers and cause you to not pick up at that phone to check one more message when stopped at the red light. Just one less intention, but a big statistical probability increase in one less accident.