A. Dear No Drive-Dialing,
You’re absolutely right: We need to put an end to “driving while intexticated.” Research shows that using a phone while behind the wheel increases a driver’s risk of getting into an accident by four times (that’s about the same risk as driving drunk) and that drivers who text can be up to 23 times more likely to crash.
These are terrifying odds, and as you said, we as parents can’t and shouldn’t leave this issue up to the law to handle. In Massachusetts, for example, recent legislation made texting by drivers of any age illegal, and teens are now prohibited from using cell phones in the car (see list of all state laws). But officers are already having trouble enforcing it. The solution to the texting while driving problem starts with all of us taking personal responsibility and encouraging our children to do the same. Here are some tips:
Set cell phone expectations—and consequences—up front. Likely, you’re both buying your teen’s cell phone and paying for her monthly contract, so you certainly get to help set the rules on using it for calls and texts. Also, you know by now that you’ll have much less leverage to change the rules once your teen actually has the phone. Before you even agree to look at models with her, discuss how your child intends to use it:
- Will she be allowed to text at all? Discuss when and where that is appropriate.
- What are the phone rules while driving? (I recommend parents require cell phones to stay in the trunk while the car is in motion.)
- What are the after-hours phone rules? Many teens sleep with their phones under their pillows which leads to interrupted shut-eye when the phone rings or vibrates. A tired driver is an unsafe driver: Consider having your child turn in the phone to you for charging in your bedroom at the end of the night.
- Will she contribute payments ever? Under what circumstances?
- What are the consequences for breaking a rule? Are there exceptions you two agree on?
Address slip-ups fairly. If the phone rules are made with your teen’s input, he’s more likely to come clean about breaking them. When your child does admit his mistake, don’t overreact or incriminate him: Simply follow through with the consequences you agreed upon. You want to stress that while you understand that accidents happen, they still have repercussions.
Model positive cell phone behavior. It goes without saying, but show your child you value the contract you’ve made about cell phone rules by sticking to them yourself.
For more information about this issue, see this video from The Today Show specifically about teens and texting:
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,