I frequently ride my bicycle the 3 miles from my home to my office and sometimes I entertain myself by looking into cars to see what the drivers are doing besides driving. I am pleasantly surprised when I find drivers who seem to be doing just that, driving, but I have to say, they seem to be in the minority.
Early in the morning, drinking coffee, juice, and other beverages seems to top the list, but it’s followed very closely by talking on the phone. A number of drivers are smoking, a few are reading the paper, their mail, other documents, or even paperback books! Eating is pretty popular and although most hungry drivers seem to have enough sense to eat a hand-held item out of a paper wrapper, I have definitely seen people eating two-handed items like yogurt with a spoon, or even a bowl of cereal in milk! Then, of course, there are the mulit-multi tasking people who are doing two things in addition to driving – smoking and drinking, reading and eating, applying make-up and chatting on the phone.
The people I observe in the morning are all adults – quite respectable-looking folks in business attire driving nice cars in a decent neighborhood. Many of them are alone in their cars, but some are driving little ones to day-care or taking kids or teens to school.
Setting the multi-tasking at-the-wheel example for your children really makes it okay for them to do the same when it comes time to ask you for the keys. When they begin driving, you can absolutely expect that they will be doing at least two other things behind the wheel, possibly three or four, and one of the most deadly of these is text messaging.
When parents themselves send and receive text messages behind the wheel, it not only provides the deadly example for their children, but it poses an even greater risk than many other distracting activities because using a cell phone to send or receive text messages takes your eyes, hands, and brain away from the driving task, essentially leaving no one at the wheel. Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for young people aged 15-20 and some studies indicate that text messaging while driving increases the odds of a crash four-fold. Additionally, although adults may have more experience driving, they are probably not very proficient at texting and the messages will be a significant distraction to them, enough to overcome their driving experience and make a crash more likely. Teens, on the other hand, who can text very quickly will not see texting as a significant distraction and feel very confident in their ability to attend to both their phone and the road. However, even though the texting may not distract them as much as it would distract an adult, teens, with their fledgling driving skills cannot afford even the slightest distraction and will still be subject to drastically increased risk for disaster if they are texting in the driver’s seat.
Although a recent study reported that 90% of Americans would support a law outlawing texting while driving, that same study also reported that 66% of those same respondants admitted to reading texts or e-mails while driving and 50% admitted to sending text messages themselves from behind the wheel.
If parents do not want their teen drivers to be texting on the road, they have to very seriously consider the example they’re setting for their children each and every time they drive them anywhere, starting when they’re old enough to begin observing you in the car. Additionally, just because you don’t have your kids in the car with you, you are visible from the sidewalk where kids may be waiting for a school bus or from other cars on the road with you. So, simply waiting until your kids are out of your car to let the behind-the-wheel party begin doesn’t relieve you from your role modeling duties.
If teens want to stay alive, they’ve got to concentrate on driving and put distractions aside. As passengers, teens need to tell their friends that they will not ride with them if they’re going to be texting while they’re driving. It’s almost exactly like refusing to ride with someone when they’ve had too much to drink. It may feel uncool to make such a statement to your friends, but if you have to pick between uncool and dead, the choice should be easy.
It also needs to also be okay for teens to remind parents to reduce driving distractions. Teens are not going to be smooth or horribly respectful when offering these reminders, but parents need to look past the tone, to the message and if they are called to the carpet while reading at the wheel, to set the best example for the teen, they’ll need to put the paper down and thank the kid for the reminder.