I was driving down a major road in our town this weekend when I pulled up next to a car in which the driver was holding her pink smartphone with the same hand as she held the steering wheel, right up at dashboard level. She was actively staring at the screen, scrolling and typing. Feeling guilty myself anytime I take a call without a hands-free headset, I was appalled at this blatant disregard for common sense, safety, and Illinois’ new ban on all texting and handheld phone use while driving. Okay, I reasoned, we’re at a stoplight. And I suppose she could be looking at a GPS map.
But no, as the light turned green, the scrolling and taping motion told me she was not looking at a map, nor did she have any intention of putting the phone down. We stayed pretty level with each other and stopped at two more lights together before she eventually sped away, and any time I glanced over, her posture and the scrolling and tapping hadn’t changed.
Yes, I admit, I am judging her. I would love to be wrong, but I have a very hard time not seeing her as a danger to myself, my children, and everyone else on the road. Because for any of us, it is only a matter of time before our distraction behind the wheel hurts someone.
Which leads me to the PSA I just saw, shared by the website Upworthy. (The PSA is from Volkswagen and was posted by MadOverAds.)
Please, parents, set the example for your children and define a standard of zero tolerance for phone use while driving. Not only is it the law in Illinois, it is unquestionably a matter of safety for your children and for others. I get the temptation — I have to discipline myself frequently to ignore the buzzes and pings coming from my phone while driving. And I have been the passenger with friends, my husband, even my father as the driver started using the phone to look up a restaurant or answer a text (at which point I grab the phone and do it for them). The point is, none of us are good enough drivers to get away with it forever. We simply cannot allow ourselves or those we love to fall to the temptation to use the phone while driving, even “just this once.”
Only 5% of teens admit to occasionally driving under the influence of alcohol. But another 9.5% of teens (1 in 10 of the teens who say they never drive under the influence) admit that they do occasionally drive after having had at least one alcoholic beverage. Confused?
These statistics (from a new study by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD) remind me of far too many of my experiences with teens. Something that I feel I have made abundantly clear (“Don’t drive under the influence of alcohol!”), and which teens readily agree to (86% of teen drivers agree that driving under the influence is extremely or very distracting), somehow manages to develop a magical grey area that teens use to justify risky behavior.
Take, for example, teens’ scary definition of a designated driver. 47% of teens admit to using a designated driver (yay!) but 21% say a DD is allowed to have “a little” alcohol or other drugs and another 4% define a DD as the “most sober” person in the group (*sigh*).
Such is parenting. It seems that in the area of safe driving, we need to regroup (again) and have a couple heart-to-hearts with our kids. Let’s remind them that people of all ages always feel less impaired than they really are and the safest choice (even for those of legal drinking age) is to have a completely sober driver. And while you’re at it, discuss texting and phone use while driving too. Remind them that reading a text is just as distracting as typing a text, both count as “texting,” and neither is acceptable behind the wheel of a car.
Have any good rules or conversations for teens and driving? Share them in the comments!
My girls are now 23 and 25, and I do worry about distracted driving, but they are not under my roof anymore. Not so for you, dear reader! There are apps out there that can warn your teen when they are going too fast and that can email you an alert when a maximum speed (which you set) is reached. With rising deaths and injuries due to texting while on the road, you might consider an app that causes the ability to text to be lost when a preset speed is reached. I even read about one that many parents might find tempting…you enter in an address (such as girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s house?) and get an alert when your teen is within a 1-mile radius. If hanging out after school is off limits because no parents will be home, that might be handy if your teen tends to push the limits. If all this seems a little too intrusive (Who me? Snoop?), an article about such apps suggests openness with your teen about your intention to use such methods to monitor and protect your teen.
When we release our teens at some point as newly independent drivers, do we just hope for the best? Do we figure that we made it all right, and they will too? I can still recall the day that one of my daughter’s high school friends was killed in a car accident. In some real ways, my daughter’s life was divided into “before” and “after.” And yet…does she know what driving behaviors are risky? I know I’ve talked about texting recently, as well as speeding. As parents, we have the ability to “nag” to the point we get tuned out. But we still have our kids’ ears as long as they are driving a car we paid for, so let’s look them in the eye, and say it again:
No putting on makeup
No driving under the influence of ANYTHING…
And, according to a study done by AAA, that “anything” means even the influence of the presence of other teens. The study showed that fatal crashes among 16- and 17-year-old drivers showed these increased risks when teens had other teens in the car.
- The prevalence of speeding increased from 30 percent to 44 percent and 48 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
- The prevalence of late-night driving (11 p.m. to 5 a.m.) increased from 17 percent to 22 percent and 28 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.
- The prevalence of alcohol use increased from 13 percent to 17 percent and 18 percent with zero, two and three or more teen passengers, respectively.