Why do people use cell phones while driving, despite the activity’s classification as a crime? Students in Eve Waltermaurer’s Criminological Theory class explored a variety of theories that explain the behavior, and implemented several real-world solutions to help address the problem.
One theory suggests that because distracted driving is viewed as normal in our society, and engaging in that behavior doesn’t break any social norms, the criminality of it isn’t enough to dissuade people from doing it. To get the message out that society does not approve of the behavior, students proposed legislation to create a Distracted Driving Awareness Day in Ulster County. Their resolution was passed unanimously by the Ulster County Legislature—and also garnered each of the students a Pride of Ulster County Award.
Ulster County’s first Distracted Driving Awareness Day was celebrated on May 18, and will be added to the county’s calendar in April of future years, to coincide with the national awareness month. Other initiatives created by students included a Facebook page (which now has almost 500 “likes”), a video, a printed pamphlet, and a pledge that was signed by many students and members of the New Paltz community.
“It was an intriguing idea because it’s a new behavior that’s now considered a crime,” said Waltermaurer. “It was a terrific opportunity for students to take what they’re learning inside the classroom, to take the theories that have been written over the last hundred or more years, and tie it to the ‘real world.’”