September 10, 2013


Positive, but skeptical, characterizes the reaction of local officials and residents toward the Iowa Department of Transportation's plan to develop a smartphone app to prevent texting and driving.

"My fear, being somewhat cynical, is that not many kids will use it," said Jeff Cayler, Carroll Police Chief, comparing the concept to physical fitness. "Those who need it don't do it."

Kirk Christensen, driver's education instructor at Carroll High School, has been teaching teenagers for nearly 30 years. He identifies the cellphone as merely the latest in a long line of distractions. However, he is still hopeful that the app might reduce the problem.

Former fellow instructor John Steffes believes the effect of the app would be positive, but unlikely to succeed fully where parents have not.

Steffes says parents are lead role models.

"If parents speed, kids speed; if parents are good about putting the phone in the glove compartment, kids are going to do the same. Parents are powerful, and they need to hear that more," he said.

Cayler agreed that the issue extends beyond teenage drivers.

"I see people texting and driving, adults and kids, all the time," he said. "It's a very dangerous situation. People think 'It'll never happen to me, I'll pay attention,' but it only takes once."

These statistics are probably more familiar to 17-year-old Katey Trecker than to most of her peers. The Carroll High senior is a daughter of an insurance worker, who drove it into her daughter's head to be a safe driver.

"She made me open my eyes on how severe it could be," Trecker said. "She had calls over and over about texting and driving and the accidents involved."

Where Cayler believes parents don't realize how prevalent the issue is, Trecker believes it is the teens who underestimate the risk.

"All the friends I know definitely text and drive," she said. "They don't think it will hurt anyone, but it definitely has bigger consequences."

Trecker saw an opportunity to open the eyes of her peers to these consequences during a problem-solution English assignment last year. In addition to writing a paper, Trecker organized two presentations at the high school featuring a video on the effects of a car accident on the driver and a conversation with a State Farm Insurance agent on the dangers of texting and driving.

Trecker has not been personally affected by a crash in which texting and driving played a role.

"Hopefully that means I'm hanging out with the right people," she said with a laugh.

While she believes that the app is a great idea, and something her mother would require she download, her advice to her peers remained blunt.

"Think before going behind the wheel," she implored. "It's a lot of responsibility, and you can get distracted way too easily."

For Cayler, some of the worst days on the job occur when this advice is ignored. With more than 28 years on the force, the veteran chief said that the difficult task of telling a parent his or her child has died does not lessen with time.

"It's so much more troublesome when it's such a preventable thing," Cayler said. "No communication is so urgent you can't wait until you stop your car."