The research published about texting and driving never seem to add up to my in-real-life experience. In a typical day driving in Seattle I see countless people with their phones out, many with it wedged at the steering wheel, stuck between their right hand and the right turn signal post. Like all of us have come to observe, it’s the unusual or unexpected driving patterns that alert me to look into their car window and confirm my suspicion.
I hate feeling like an old lady, angry at those few reckless decision-makers who compromise my family’s safety on the road. I also hate feeling powerless amidst the problem. After a few feeble and failed attempts to influence others’ decisions on the road (waving my hands, pointing my finger or honking my horn and screaming in my fury), it’s clear to me that we citizens can’t police the issue. Further, trying to change others’ behavior from our own driver seat is an entirely imperfect solution – yet another distraction. I can’t help but ranting that I remain angry about this significant human frailty–the inability to follow the law and put down the devices and drive.
Oprah started a pledge years ago (while still on the air). Award-winning filmmakers are making documentaries. And so my 101 video here may not do a thing. I’ve yet to see data for any campaign that has changed a communities’ decision about using devices in the car.
The optimist in me thinks it may be the teens who take the data to heart on the deadly habit of texting and driving, potentially they can change the habits of our nation. When it comes to habit formation, behavior change, and our addiction to our digital devices perhaps its those just forming them that will save us.
But wait a second, what about that data that doesn’t seem to add up?
Earlier this fall data published out of the University of Washington documented that 8% of observed drivers were using devices, with nearly 1/2 texting. Eight percent? I find the number so underwhelming especially when compared to my real life experience on the road to and from elementary school, on the way to the newsroom, and hauling up I-5 to clinic. What gives?
Previously Research at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has established that about 1/3 of American adults say they text and drive. The reality is, it’s worse for teens: data published earlier in 2013 (collected in 2011) by the CDC found that about 45% of teens said they had texted during the most recent month.
This rant and all the others I’ve composed don’t seem to penetrate. Would love your ideas for what will.
3 on-topic links worth your time
- Comedian Louis CK chats candidly on Conan O’Brien’s late night talk show on why cell phone use is not in our children’s best interest. Warning: this is somewhat profane but also somewhat perfect, too.
- Seth Godin’s genius blog post about attempts to change these habits: “This Isn’t Going To Work”
- The AT&T-funded documentary about texting and driving by an award-winning producer, Werner Herzog.
5 things parents can do to support teen drivers
- Talk to teens about distractions during driving. Texting is one distraction but so is a cell phone, friends, or chaos amidst the car. Teens who tend to engage in riskier behavior tend to feel that those behaviors aren’t as risky as teens who don’t take risks. You can potentially change a teen’s understanding here. Discuss the risk of riding without a seat belt and riding with a driver who has been drinking along with distractions.
- Don’t just finger-wag, explain that texting and driving involves 3 distractions: Visual (eyes averted), manual (hands preoccupied), and cognitive (thoughts elsewhere). Together it makes for a risky combination–explain why.
- As an adult, model great driving (no texting, cell phone use in car).
- Teach teens to put phone in purse or bag in backseat of car, from the very first time behind the wheel. I always tell teens that nearly no one can ignore the buzz and the beep of an arriving message. Make it impossible to get into a bad habit and keep the phone out of reach. Data finds that educational approaches are largely ineffective at reducing teen risky behavior–we have to work to also have things like ongoing minimum legal drinking age and graduated drivers licensing systems in place.
- Have “house driving rules” and stick to the rules and consequences. There is some data that these rules combined with parent involvement enforcing them can reduce risky teen driving behaviors and crashes.
Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.