The Parents Role in Teenage Distracted Driving

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I have noticed a real shift in my level of frustration over the complacency about driving. There is this prevailing attitude in this country that “it’s no big deal.” It is my position that it is a HUGE DEAL because just about every person of every age is affected by it one way or another.

I participated in a Distracted Driving Youth Summit that was held at ASU last week. There were probably a little over 100 teens there. The goal was to get 300+ high school students from around the valley to attend this summit to learn about the issue and develop strategies to change the devastating trend of distracted driving. Even though we were not able to get as many students as we wanted, the summit was still very successful. The students had great questions and came up with incredible ideas. However, what struck me most was the common theme I heard from students “our parents need to stop talking or texting while they’re driving.” “They need to be better role models.” The moderator asked, “have you asked them to stop” and many times they answered, “they don’t listen to me when I ask them to stop.” THIS is appalling to me.

I run a class for the parents of our students and one of the first questions I ask parents is: “what concerns you most about your teenager being on the road?” What do you think comes up almost immediately? You guessed it – distracted driving – texting while driving. Yet, even some of our students tell us that their mom or dad text while driving.

It is my belief that it is this attitude on the part of parents that is at the crux of the teenage driving issue. At the end of the day, there are far too many “distractions” in many parents lives to put the time and energy into insuring that their teens will be safe and responsible in a car – whether they are the driver or a passenger. They are concerned when posed the question, but when it comes to “doing something about it” they don’t have time or can’t be bothered or believe it doesn’t really apply to them.

I have been accused of being “an extremist” and maybe that is true, but I have looked in the eyes of a parent that has lost their child to a car crash – that changes you. It changes the way you think about all of this. My stance is simple, ban the use of cell phones while driving. The data is quite clear, talking on a cell phone causes a condition called “cognitive blindness – the failure of a person to recognize what they see.” Our attention is on the conversation and only secondarily on driving, so our ability to react to a situation is severely compromised. Texting while driving is much worse because now our hands are not on the steering wheel and our mind is on composing our message or response, taking even more of our attention away from the road.

For those of us that are acutely aware of this problem and are working to change the prevailing attitude of “I do it because I can and the rest of you be damned” we need to be diligent. Talk to other parents about your views. The first step in creating change is awareness. We need to continue to educate people about the dangers of distracted driving. Take a stance. Let your voice be heard. This issue does not affect only a few. It affects anyone who rides or drives a vehicle, walks on our streets, or rides a bike. This isn’t a personal freedom issue, this is a public safety issue.

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