One text or call could wreck it allTo encourage teens to take distracted driving seriously, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is holding a contest. NHTSA invites high school students to design a creative icon that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networking sites. The icon will get the conversation going by helping those teens who are struggling to speak to their peers about the dangers of distracted driving.

On, DOT writes the following to teens who are thinking about entering the contest:

We’re looking for icons that send a clear message: cell phones and driving don’t mix.

This is your chance to make your voice heard and help keep our roads safe for your family, your friends, and yourself. So, get creative — design an eye-catching graphic that you’d be proud to show off on your favorite social network.

Winning designs will be featured on as part of the DOT’s official campaign to prevent distracted driving. The icon design contest is open to students between the ages of 13 and 18 in the U.S., and entries can be submitted through July 31, 2012. For more details, visit

The contest began on April 16, the same date that DOT released a survey revealing that of all age groups, young people are the least likely to speak up about distracted driving when they are passengers, and the driver is texting or talking on a cell phone.

The NHTSA survey polled more than 6,000 drivers about their attitudes, knowledge, and behavior regarding cell phones. Researchers found that young drivers from 18 through 20 reported the highest level of phone use in accidents or near-accidents:

These young drivers are nearly three times as likely to report having been reading or sending a text or e-mail when such an incident occurred as compared to drivers age 25 and higher. In addition, drivers younger than 25 are two to three times more likely to drive while sending or reading a text message or email. Reports of texting while driving drop sharply as age increases.

Although about 90% of people of all ages who were interviewed said they consider a driver’s reading or sending text messages while driving to be very unsafe, only about one-third of passengers from ages 18-24 would speak up if the driver were talking on a handheld phone, as compared with about half of those surveyed over the age of 65, according to a DOT press release.

As Douglas Newcomb writes for the blog Exhaust Notes, “Short of a blanket ban on cell phones in cars proposed by the National Transportation Safety Board, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood is hoping that making distracted driving more of a social stigma will play a greater role.”

In the DOT press release, LaHood said:

Distracted driving is an epidemic on our roadways, and these new findings show that our youngest drivers are particularly at risk. We’re encouraging young people across America to commit to distraction-free driving, spread the word to their family and friends, and speak up if the driver in their car is distracted.

On a page titled “Kick distracted driving to the curb by designing a social networking icon for DOT!” notes the grim fact that “Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens.  And when it comes to distracted driving, young people are among the most likely to text and talk behind the wheel.”

You can see a video announcing the contest here:

Image by, used under Fair Use: Reporting.