A new study released by the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine attempts to show just how dangerous distracted driving can be for young people. The report states that drivers, especially young and inexperienced ones, are at a far greater risk to get into a car accident when they get distracted by things like cell phones, looking at roadside scenery or eating while driving.
And while the study’s findings aren’t exactly groundbreaking, it is cold hard proof of just how serious a problem distracted driving has become in the mobile communication era.
So, if we all know that distracted driving is dangerous, what can we do to make sure the message sticks with young drivers, most of whom have grown up with a cell phone always within reach? It’s a question Maria McMahon, MSN, manager of the Trauma Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, has spent a lot of time thinking about. “As a mother, one of my biggest fears was my son getting his license,” she says. “Cars are dangerous machines. When you factor in all the mistakes a young, inexperienced driver can make, even without distractions, it’s more than enough to scare any parent.” …
Last week, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty of motor vehicle homicide by texting and became the first in the state to be sent to prison for driving while texting.
According to reports, after being distracted by his phone, Deveau swerved his car into oncoming traffic. The resulting accident killed a 55-year-old father of three.
In a single moment, many lives were destroyed. But what makes this story even more tragic is that it was so easily avoidable. In the following blog, Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert, Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, shares practical tips for parents on how to keep their teens from texting while behind the wheel.
Q: I’ve been begging my teen son not to text while driving, but I know he does it anyway. What can I do to get him to stop?
–Texting and Driving in Beverly, MA
A: Dear Texting and Driving,
You’re right to be concerned–according to a new study from the CDC, one third of U.S. teens report texting while driving. The issue has come front and center this past week, when an 18 year old became the first person in Massachusetts to be convicted of causing a fatal car crash while texting.
But stories like this and state prohibitions on texting and driving may not get the reaction you’re looking for from your son. Research shows that knowing it’s dangerous doesn’t necessarily deter some young adults from texting while driving. And because his brain won’t be able to fully process long-term consequences until he’s in his 20s, the idea that an accident like this could happen to him may just not feel real.
To get the message across, try approaching the issue in a way:
- Make sure to touch on consequences that he can grasp. Although it’s important to talk about the very real dangers of texting while driving, it might help to also discuss those that are closer to what he has experienced–like not being allowed to drive. The young man who was convicted this week had his license revoked by a judge for 15 years.
- Work with him to establish clear rules for cell phone use. He’ll want to have his cell phone with him when he’s in the car, but it doesn’t have to be a distraction. Ask him what would help him keep his eyes on the road–turning the phone off completely? Leaving it in the glove compartment or the trunk? If he owns the solution, he is more likely to feel ownership of it and to abide by it.
- Together, create real consequences for not abiding by the rules. Agree ahead of time on what happens if he does text while driving. Maybe for a period of time he loses the privilege of driving the car–or of having a phone.
- Praise what he does well, and follow through on the consequences when he slips up. Both will reinforce how important this issue is.
- Model the behavior you’d like to see–and put your phone away while you’re driving, too. He will listen far more closely to what you do than to what you say.
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? …
Good news for those of you who (like me) cringe and change lanes when you see someone two-handed texting while “driving” their cars: the Boston City Council yesterday voted unanimously to ban texting while driving. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino has said he’ll sign the ban as soon as it hits his desk, and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has said he supports a ban on texting while driving, so hopefully the state will follow suit soon.