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Texting and driving a big problem with teens (and their parents)

Texting and driving a big problem with teens (and their parents)

Texting. Talking on the phone. Eating. Searching for a new song. We are so accustomed to our car culture that it’s easy to forget how dangerous driving really can be. A single moment’s distraction is all it takes to turn the family minivan into a deadly weapon.

And it’s only going to get worse. According to the Canadian Automobile Association, texting recently overtook impaired driving as the No. 1 safety concern among drivers. And since 95% of Canadians between 14 and 17 send or receive text messages (according to a poll quoted in the Globe & Mail), this is a problem that is only likely to grow.

An experiment conducted by students in three Canadian studies involved standing on busy intersections at rush hour and counting drivers simultaneously engaged in distracting activities. They counted a total of 802 distractions in one hour, with 199 taking place in Toronto, 314 in Montreal, and 289 in Moncton. Texting while driving ranked third in the total number of distractions (after eating/ drinking and talking to passengers).

The experiment was organized by Allstate Insurance, to draw attention to unsafe driving practices. “Driving while distracted is the equivalent of driving after drinking four beers, so even one distracted driver is one too many,” says spokesperson Saskia Matheson in a company press release. “All Canadian provinces now have distracted driving legislation in place, but it is not enough. Drivers need to be reminded of the dangers of taking their eyes off the road or hands off the wheel even for a few seconds,” adds Matheson.

But how much worse is texting than alcohol when you’re behind the wheel? According to this illuminating experiment by Car & Driver Magazine, it’s much, much worse. The texting drivers took an extra 90 to 319 feet to hit their brakes and stop their cars than the drivers impaired by alcohol (7 to 19 feet). Their reaction time to distractions was considerably slower.

The dangers of texting and driving have been reasonably well publicized. A 4-minute excerpt from a 30-minute film on the dangers of texting and driving produced by a South Wales police force became a YouTube sensation two years ago, with a particularly effective and jarring presentation of an accident and its aftermath (watch it here, but beware that it contains images that may be upsetting to younger viewers).

And yet, we see people doing it all the time. Parents do it with kids in the car. Kids who are watching their parents’ behaviour carefully, and will one day be behind the wheel of the car themselves.

The thing is, while drinking and driving have become socially unacceptable, we are only just coming to terms with the idea that it isn’t OK to have your cellphone in your hand. Even if you think you are a better driver than average. Even if you are just stopped at a light. Even if you’re in bumper to bumper traffic.

Part of the problem is that we have become so busy and so accustomed to multi-tasking, that the moments spent driving in our cars seem wasted if we are not also accomplishing some other task. But just because technology now allows us to catch up on our email or check Facebook at any time doesn’t mean we should. And yet over half of teenage drivers admit to texting, typing or reading behind the wheel.

If this isn’t a conversation you’ve had yet with your teens (whether they are driving age or not), it’s time to start talking.

And if you are one of the many, many adults who think you are somehow exempt from the laws of physics, it’s time to think again.