Spring is in the air, and for many parents of high schoolers talk has turned toward prom and graduation parties. I look back on my experience in high school and better understand why my parents, and my friends’ parents, were worried about us driving. Like kids today, we weren’t bad drivers. But, like kids today, we often did stupid things after prom and at graduation parties. Today, though, every conversation seems to wind its way to the topic of distracted driving or texting and driving.
Distracted driving is nothing new when it comes to teen driving. Young people have faced distractions for decades. Today it’s texting, for my generation it was changing the radio or cassettes, for my mom’s generation it was radio stations and 8-track tapes. And, of course there is alcohol, shenanigans, and a host of other potential distractions. But when it comes to technology, we forget that every generation has their new thing that is problematic.
So what do we do? Obviously, teens are going to drive to prom and graduation parties and we can’t change that. What we can change, though, is their commitment to stay focused on their driving. And, honestly, that starts with us.
I’m not a big believer in having kids sign a ‘no texting while driving’ contract when the parents aren’t going to do the same thing. We’re their role models. If we do it, we’re giving them permission. Just like drinking and driving. We can tell our kids not to drink and drive, but we also demonstrate our commitment by not drinking and driving. It’s not different when it comes to other distractions.
Teens 15 to 19 have the highest incident of drivers involved in accidents while distracted. While they’re out celebrating the last thing we want is for any of them to get hurt or hurt someone else. So what can we do?
5 Tips For Helping to End Distracted Driving
Don’t drive distracted yourself. We set the example. If we’re picking up our phones, that mean they can too. I know there are important messages we need to see. But are those messages really that important to put the people you love most at risk? In March, 2016 the New Zealand Transport Agency released a video with a slightly different approach to the traditional horrifying texting and driving ad. It’s a new approach, and I think it could work better. While I’m still affected by the texting and driving crash videos, I think many kid are desensitized or don’t think it could really happen to them.
Know the law. If the law of mom and dad won’t work, maybe the state law will. Currently, in the US, 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands, ban texting while driving. The fines can be hefty, and getting a ticket, even if that’s the worst that happens, can put a damper on the fun of prom or the graduation party. However, distractions don’t only come from picking up your own phone.
Have someone else navigate. As the driver, their job is to get themselves and their passengers to the destination safely. Since they’re not always experienced with driving around town, have the teen ask a passenger to put in the destination into the GPS or map. Have you ever tried to type in an address to Google Maps or the vehicle GPS while driving? I can barely figure out the navigation on a car I drive daily. Imagine how challenging it can be for a teen who’s not used to driving.
Use a blocking app. If you’re not sure you or your teen can break the urge to check your phone when you hear the notification or know that friends are posting cool things to social media, use an app to block texting while driving. Just like not having chips in the house because you have no willpower, remove the temptation to be distracted while driving. I often pull out my phone at a stop light, but more and more I’m realizing that even that small glance means I’m not paying attention to what’s going on around me.
Empower the passenger. Most of the focus is on getting the driver to avoid distractions. However, just like educating the kids about not getting in a car with their friend if the friend has been drinking the same goes for getting into a car with someone who’s not paying attention when they drive. I know there’s less risk of being the lame-o if you refuse to get in the car of a classmate who’s drunk or noticeably impaired than if you don’t go along with all the “fun” when it comes to distracted driving. It’s new territory for us as parents to let our kids know we’ll go pick them up if they choose not to get in a vehicle with someone texting and driving or engaging in other behaviors that put the passengers at risk. You’ve seen the videos. Maybe your kids have too. But it’s worth watching again.
The end to distracted driving starts with us. But we don’t know what other parents are modeling for their kids. And because we don’t know what other people are modeling and teaching their kids, we have to teach our kids not only that they don’t text and drive or drive while distracted but that they don’t get in a car with someone who doesn’t take seriously their obligation to protect their passengers.
Accidents happen. We can hope our kids always arrive safely, but there are other drivers out there and we don’t have any control over them. We may not have full control over what our kids do when they get behind the wheel or hop in the car with one of their friends. However, what we can do starts long before the engine starts.
Image Credit: Viktor Hanacek