Lois Lee, MD, MPH, works in Children’s Emergency Department Injury Prevention Program
CRUNCH!! The sickening sound and subsequent lurch forward were undeniable: the dreaded sound and feel of another car running directly into the back of mine. At first I was shaken, then utterly confused as to how it could have happened. Sure, the roads were a little slick from the rain, but that had lightened up a long time ago. Not only that, but traffic at the time was standing still! How, with dry roads and street congestion, did a driver manage to bump into my car?
I was looking forward at the time so I couldn’t say for sure, but I had a sinking suspicion that the driver who hit me was distracted in some capacity. Thank goodness neither of us involved in the fender bender was hurt, but not everyone is so lucky. New figures show that increasing numbers of car crashes and crash related deaths in the US are due to distracted driving.
In response to these numbers, Massachusetts law makers recently passed a bill which takes effect today, and bans ALL drivers from texting while driving a motor vehicle. This bans all texting by a driver in moving motor vehicle, even if you’re stopped in traffic or at a stop light. Everyone thinks they can multi-task while on the road, but the facts clearly suggest that this isn’t the case.
In addition to banning texting while driving, the law prohibits all cell phone use for drivers under the age of 18. As a matter of fact, drivers this age are prohibited from using any “mobile electronic devices” while driving. If you’re under 18 and caught violating this law you’ll be fined $100 and could lose your license for 60 days. In the mean time, you’ll also have to attend youth traffic school. Subsequent offenses will have additional penalties of $250 and a six month suspension and then $500 with a possible one year suspension. These tickets will not be considered moving violations and will therefore not affect insurance premiums.
For a generation weaned on iPods, IMing, Nintendo DS, and smartphones, the ban won’t be anything to LOL about. But it will be important for teens, their parents and other adult role models to help them realize just how serious the situation can be. The following are just a few suggestions on how parents can help break teens of this dangerous habit, and prevent younger children from developing it in the first place.
Road rules: Most kids respond best to clearly established rules. If you don’t want them using their phones while they drive, as a parent it’s your responsibility to clearly communicate this rule and enforce it. It may not make you the most popular member of the household, but few parental tasks ever do. As the parent, it’s likely that you’re somewhat responsible for buying the cell phone or vehicle, or are contributing financially to the car’s the insurance or phone bill. As the provider of these items you’re also entitled to take either away if your child isn’t using them in a responsible manner.
Consistency: It’s no safety secret that wearing a seat belt is ALWAYS a good idea, whether you’re driving cross-country or around the block. The same goes for phones while driving: it’s ALWAYS dangerous, regardless of the importance of the phone call or text. House policies on driving communication should reflect this, even when it concerns getting in touch with you. If your teen is expected to call on her way home, make sure she pulls over to do it first. Your son is out past curfew again? You have every right to call him, but after he answers, make sure he pulls over before he begins making excuses about the movie “running late.” Adhering to the rules, even when an exception may seem reasonable, reinforces their importance.
Drive by example: Most of us would never drink and drive in front of our kids, race other cars, or even start the engine without buckling up first. Why then would we set a bad example for our children by texting behind the wheel? Though they may deny it, we have a much greater influence over our teens’ behavior than they let on. If you practice safe driving, there’s a far better chance your teenager will as well. ‘Do as I say, not as I text’ isn’t just hypocritical, it’s dangerous.
These are just a few ways parents can help reinforce the idea that phones and driving are a dangerous combo, but there’s no reason to limit yourself. Take any and all chances you can to bring this up with your young drivers, and let them know that driving is a real responsibility. You may come across as old fashioned or stickler for the rules, but it’s better they learn now, B4 its 2 L8. (Before its too late.)
What about you? Do you have any experience with keeping teens safe while on the road? If so we’d love to hear them. Please feel free to post them in our comments section or email us here.