Teen Texting & Driving: A Comprehensive Guide for Parents

We all know how dangerous it is to drive while your attention is diverted elsewhere. Many of us may remember our mothers yelling at the rambunctious kids in the backseat: “Be quiet! Your father is trying to drive!” Today, there are many more distractions than just kids cutting up in the backseat. Texting is one of those distractions, and it has become an epidemic, especially for teenagers who feel the need to respond to messages immediately. Sixteen percent of distracted driving crashes involving drivers ages 15 to 19 years old. So, what can you as a parent do to prevent your teen from texting and driving?

Five Ways to Address Texting While Driving with Your Teen

Many parents have a hard time connecting with their teens on a day-to-day basis.  While teens desperately want to be independent, you’ve got to watch out for them – and teen driving is an area that causes many parents to lose sleep.  In today’s world, that worry is often about texting while driving – a practice that an astounding number of teens admit to.

According to a survey by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 94 percent of teens say the recognize the dangers of texting while driving, but 35 percent admitted to texting while behind the wheel. A 2017 AAA report said that drivers ages 19 to 24 were nearly twice as likely as all drivers to have typed or sent an email or text message.

In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 people were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A significant percentage of the distracted drivers were young people. That makes it critically important for all parents to address smartphone use among teens who are driving.

Here are five ways to do just that:

1. Communicate. It sounds simple and perhaps a bit “touchy-feely,” but teens don’t often hear what you’re really saying.  Regardless of the up and down head shaking you might get, you’re likely getting a behind the back eye-roll once the conversation is over.  Talk to your teens about your concerns, their safety and the safety of others.  Make sure they understand the very real consequences of texting and driving – especially if their behavior were to cause the death of another.  Sometimes, it’s all about perspective.

Lisa Lewis, MD recommends that parents set an example for their children.

“As you rightly point out, this is a major problem,” Dr. Lewis said. “I think parents need to model no texting while driving. I often see parents driving with a cell in hand and kids in the back seat.”

2. Get Tech Savvy.Although most parents can’t imagine the idea of “out tech-ing” their teen, there are apps available to alert parents when their teens are texting and driving.  Every app operates a bit differently, may only be available for certain types of devices and can be expensive. However, it’s a viable option if you’re simply at your wit’s end.

Here are a few of the numerous options available:

Drive2Win — Drive2Win is a free app that rewards safe driving behavior! Drivers accrue points for each mile they drive without using their cell phone. The points can be traded for great rewards such as gas cards, free pizza and more! Drive2Win is sponsored by Becker Law Firm.

AT&T DriveMode® —This app is designed to help drivers stay focused on driving. It silences incoming text messages and sends an auto-reply letting the sender know that you are driving. The app turns on when the vehicle is moving and parents can receive an alert if the app is turned off. It works on Android and iPhone devices.

DriveSafe.ly® — This mobile app uses iSpeech text-to-speech technology to read mobile text message and emails out loud in real time. It automatically responds without drivers having to type in a reply.

DriveFirst — This app available from Sprint automatically detects when a car is going 10 miles per hour or faster and silences emails and text messages and sends calls to voice mail. It is free, but only works on Android phones.

Focus —Screen Free Driving— This free app launches when you start driving and if you touch your phone, a stern voice warns you to put down your phone and drive. The free version allows you to track how much you use a phone while driving.

If none of these apps work for you, do a simple Google search for “texting, driving, apps” (that’s how we found the ones above) – you’ll be amazed at what’s out there.

3. Take The Pledge. Having teens take a pledge not to text and drive reinforces the idea that they’ve made a personal commitment – to themselvesand to others.  There are numerous pledges available that parents can download, print, have their teen sign and post right where most teens are likely to be reminded of it – on the refrigerator door.

Here are just a few to consider:

  • Distraction.gov.. The fight to end distracted driving starts with you. Make the commitment to drive phone-free today.  Distracted driving kills and injures thousands of people each year. I pledge to, 1) protect lives by never texting or talking on the phone while driving, 2) be a good passenger and speak out if the driver in my car is distracted and 3) encourage my friends and family to drive phone-free.
  • Teens Against Distracted Driving (TADD). I pledge to completely stop texting and using my cellphone while I am driving. I understand the dangers associated with these actions and will spread the word to my family and friends to help us put an end to the dangerous habit.  (Teens get a free rubber bracelet to boot)
  • Down for the Count—This free app allows teens to create a campaign pledge to drive phone free for anywhere from 5 to 25 hours and select gift card rewards from sponsors (such as parents) when the ten accomplish the goal.
  • It Can Wait.No text is worth the risk.  It can wait. No text message, email, website or video is worth the risk of endangering my life or the lives of others on the road.  I pledge to never text and drive and will educate others about the dangers of texting while driving.

4. Get Informed. If none of these options seems viable, don’t worry.  There are many organizations out there that offer up very real and very practical advice.  One of the best was born right here in Kentucky. Operationparent.org was founded by a mother of five who struggled with the teen years and decided to share what she learned with others.

Operationparent.org’s mission is to provide ongoing education, support and hope to those raising teens and pre-teens in today’s culture.  Their website has a wealth of information for parents and they’ve published a no-nonsense booklet that addresses 44 of the issues most parents are facing now – or are likely to face in the future.

Distracted Driving Not Limited to Texting

When drivers are distracted by any activity, their attention is diverted – making it more likely that their inattention will endanger the lives of passengers, bystanders and themselves.  According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) website, Distraction.Gov, texting isn’t the only type of distraction that can lead to serious injury or death.

Others include:

  • Talking on any mobile device that isn’t hands-free
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD player, or MP3 player

These types of distractions prevent drivers from doing the most important things they need to – keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and be aware of what is happening around them.

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