Teens texting-while-driving trending the wrong way

The News TribuneJune 19, 2014 

As the school year ended, parents of teenagers used to have one big worry: alcohol-fueled parties that could end in a deadly car crash.

There’s still that – although a new study by the Centers for Disease Control shows that teen drinking has decreased slightly since 2011. But now parents have a potentially greater threat to worry about – and not just when the school year is over: That same study of teen behavior found that more teens are texting while driving. In the previous month, 41 percent had texted or emailed while behind the wheel.

Why is this happening? Teens no doubt have seen television spots about the dangers of distracted driving due to using their cellphones for texting or calling. They’ve heard talks from grieving parents whose children were killed while texting. They’re likely familiar with the widely promoted “It can wait” campaign.

Texting while driving results in the deaths, on average, of 11 teens every day in the United States. They’re as impaired as if they had drunk four beers, and a texting driver is 23 times more likely to crash than a nontexting one. None of that seems to matter: 77 percent of teenagers say they are confident that they can safely text while driving.

Education and appealing to teens’ better judgment doesn’t seem to be working, so parents might need to resort to more creative tactics. One could be the old carrot and stick. The teens get to drive and use a phone as long as they agree not to do the two things at the same time. If anyone they know spots them violating that agreement, either the car or the phone gets taken away.

Technology also offers strategies for restricting cellphone use while driving. Parents can install an in-vehicle camera system, such as offered by DriveCam and SmartDrive. It monitors driver activity and provides real-time feedback with video.

A cheaper, less Big Brotherish option is an app like AT&T’s DriveMode. When the vehicle is moving 25 mph or more, the app automatically sends a personalized auto-reply message to incoming texts, alerting senders that the recipient is driving and will reply at a later time.

Texts cannot be sent, and incoming calls go directly to voicemail. Parents can receive text alerts if the app has been turned off while the vehicle is moving.

Beyond resorting to such measures, parents can take one last important step: Lead by example. Many teens say their parents use their own cellphones while driving. The message they send by doing that could be a deadly one for their children.

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