Distracted Driving

By Matt Andrews

CONTENT AREAS: Health, English, Social Studies, Advisory


This lesson is to improve the safety on roads in your community.

Students will become aware of the dangers of distracted driving with the message: DO NOT USE PHONE OR TEXT WHILE DRIVING


  • PS:B1.2 Understand consequences of decisions and choices
  • PS:C1.7 Apply effective problem-solving and decision-making skills to make safe and healthy choices
  • PS:C1.8 Learn about the emotional and physical dangers of substance use and abuse



  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • CCSS.Math.Content.HSS-IC.B.3 Recognize the purposes of and differences among sample surveys, experiments, and observational studies; explain how randomization relates to each
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


There is no prior knowledge necessary to facilitate this lesson.

Instructors may want to survey students to understand who drives and has a cell phone. Instructors may adapt conversation to the students’ familiarity with cell phones, alcohol, and automobiles.

If the instructor would like to further connect this lesson to the Common Core framework, use data from the following websites as a basis for mathematical reasoning about safe driving.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Data: http://www.nhtsa.gov/NCSA

NHTSA website for Distracted Driving: https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia puts research into action with educational resources: http://www.TeenDriverSource.org

Adolescents are likely to be familiar with Car and Driver: http://www.CarandDriver.com

Instructors need to be sensitive about the appropriateness of this information. This lesson does not require any of this information. Information is provided to promote safe driving habits throughout the school community.


Student Paths article “Put the brakes on distracted driving,” from Related Articles.


Model critical reading of the article to understand basic information and risks associated with distracted driving.

Use the article to stimulate creative thinking about effective ways to make driving safer through simple strategies and social campaigns to reduce distracted driving within the school community.

Students imagine getting into a car and practicing safe strategies to focus on driving.


The goal of this lesson is to improve safety on the roads in the community. This 10-minute, informal assessment can be done in a few weeks following the original lesson. Two parts to the assessment:

  1. Instruct each student to write five strategies for safer driving on a piece of paper.
    • Allow students a few minutes to write answers on a private piece of paper. This self-evaluation will test student recall of the lesson on driving without distraction.
  2. Ask students, “How could we know if students in our school are safer drivers this month than last month?” Open a discussion about how a research group in the class could evaluate the effectiveness of efforts to improve the safety of drivers and roads in the school community. This will reinforce safe driving through discussion of metrics for positive outcomes in the community.


  1. Students Read Article (3 minutes)
    • Distribute the Student Paths article “Put the brakes on distracted driving.”
    • Provide students a few minutes to read the article. Notice facial expressions and general reactions to the information.
  2. Instructor Model Critical Reading of the Article (10 minutes)

In this activity, the instructor models critical reading aloud to the students.

The topic of safe driving can be sensitive for some students, so adapt accordingly, but this 10 minutes is time to focus on the intellectual reasoning to understand the logic of the argument made by the author. The next stage of the lesson will focus on the social and emotional aspects of safe driving. Now is the time to appreciate social emotions and model critical thinking for students.

The following three steps (A, B, C) walk instructors through a critical analysis of information presented in the text:

A. Underline the exact phrases the author uses to make a claim about distracted driving. Here are two specific claims to underline: While all distractions are dangerous and endanger the lives of everyone in your car, those in the cars around you and bystanders, the most dangerous is text messaging.

Distracted drivers can be more dangerous than drunk drivers.


B. Circle mathematical representations the author uses to support the argument that distracted driving is dangerous.

Driving requires three skills: visual, cognitive (judgment and perception) and manual (hands at “10 and 2”). Texting requires the same skills. See the problem?

It takes at least four to six seconds to send or receive a text. At 55 mph, you can drive the length of a football field in six seconds.

Would you drive that far blindfolded?

The author uses numbers to reason about each of the fast facts. Instructors may further engage students in this critical reading by asking them to raise their hand when mathematical reasoning is used to express each fact. Instructors note that all facts use numbers and math; adapt the lesson to the appropriate level of the students’ understanding. Goal is to model college-level reading skills.

Car accidents are the No. 1 cause of teen deaths, and distracted driving is one of the greatest contributors to this statistic.

Of all the fatal crashes that involved drivers under the age of 20, 16 percent of the drivers reported being distracted. This figure is probably higher, though, because it can be hard to admit that cell phone use caused an accident.

Any driver using a hand-held device (phone, MP3 player or GPS) is four times more likely to be in a collision that injures the driver.

Crashes caused by drivers who were texting are 23 times worse than those caused by drivers who weren’t distracted.

When you drive and use a cell phone at the same time, your brain is 37 percent less focused on driving safely. In the United States, a crash occurs every 24 seconds because of a driver who is using a cell phone.

The section on alcohol uses mathematical reasoning in every sentence. Instructor may pass through the section quickly, while pointing how each sentence uses numbers, “54%” and “0.02” and relationships “three times” and “similar” to make an argument that since 1991, teen drinking and driving has gone down by 54 percent. Still, teens drink and drive about 2.4 million times per month.

Young people are already three times more likely to be in fatal crashes than drivers with more experience.

Even with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02 percent, your brain starts to relax (making it harder to practice good judgment); it gets harder to do more than one task at a time, and your eyes don’t focus as well. At 0.08 percent, your brain doesn’t detect danger well, it’s hard to concentrate and process information, your memory gets weak and your coordination is impaired. The higher your BAC, the more you endanger lives.

Studies have found distracted drivers can be more dangerous than drunk drivers. In an episode of TV’s “MythBusters,” which aired originally in 2005, hosts Adam Savage and Kari Byron failed road safety tests while driving with a BAC just below 0.08 percent and on separate occasions while using a cell phone. Both received worse scores when they drove using cell phones. The folks at Car and Driver had similar results when they did their own drunk driving versus distracted driving tests. At the end of the “MythBusters” segment, Savage noted that you can remedy distracted driving by putting away your cell phone, but you can’t get sober in an instant.

In the final section on what you can do, circle “100 percent preventable.” The point is to model critical reading to understand how numbers are used. Emphasize how much mathematical reasoning is used to determine the dangers of distracted driving.


C. Model critical question-asking to engage students in college-level reading skills.

Ask: What could be wrong -- false, unreliable, or invalid -- about what this author says?

Encourage students to engage in the discussion. Here are few strategies for instructors to model:

Say: We could check https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving

Ask: How can a study know … “at 0.08 percent, your brain doesn’t detect danger well, it’s hard to concentrate and process information, your memory gets weak and your coordination is impaired”?

Ask a series of questions: The author says “visual, cognitive, and manual” skills are used to both drive and text. Are there additional skills used to drive and text? How is it possible to drive and text? Is it really like wearing a “blindfold”? I wonder how I could reduce distracted driving?

Conclude this activity and suggest that students need to read text at this intensity in order to succeed in college.


3. Group Activity to Create Positive Messages about Safe Driving (10 minutes)

Keep this activity short and simple with a focus on the outcome to create a positive social message to promote throughout the school community.

Divide students into groups to work with 4 students sitting near them (no movement to save time). Read the 5-minute task to students:

Our school would like to make the streets and driving safer in our community. What kind of social message could we use to reduce distracted driving? Commercials, workshops, and traffic patrols cost money, but there must be some way that our school can promote safer streets with something simple. What could we do? This is not an easy task, but within 5 minutes, I would like each group to have a few simple solutions to share.

Allow students to share a few of their favorite ideas. This activity is mostly to stimulate creative problem-solving about social programs that would create safer drivers and roads.


4. Closure (2 minutes) Pretend the Chair is the Driver’s Seat, and Practice Safety Strategy

Instruct students to prepare for the imaginary end of the day and drive home, and provide time for students to clean up and put belongings away. The whole class will pretend their chairs are cars and practice safe strategies to avoid distractions.

Each person stands up and pretends the chair or desk is the car. Instructors may model driving by challenging students to a “Safe Race” home. Students may drive as fast as they would like as long as they use strategies to minimize distracted driving.

This lesson introduces a topic of safe driving, models critical reading, and stimulates creative thinking. An effective lesson may be intellectually and emotionally exhausting for some students. Allow this closure activity to both reinforce safe driving behaviors and to lighten the mood for students to enjoy the rest of the day.

Put the Brakes on Distracted Driving

About the Author

Matt Andrews