Texting And Driving: Parents Are Setting The Worst Example

by Valerie Williams
Image via Shutterstock

Teens watch parents using their phones while driving and emulate that behavior

The statistics on teens texting and driving aren’t good — four in ten admit to it — and that doesn’t count the ones who don’t. While we can chide the younger generation all we like for their reckless behavior, research tells us they come by these habits honestly.

By watching us.

Liberty Mutual Insurance recently conducted a survey of 2,500 teens and 1,000 parents of teen drivers about their phone habits while driving — and the results are pretty disturbing. Dr. Gene Beresin, adviser of the group Students Against Destructive Decisions, shares some scary stats:

  • Half of parents have knowingly texted their teen while the teen is driving — and a third expected a response back before the teen arrived at their destination.
  • Over half of parents used apps while driving, because texting is no longer the only danger. 68% of teens surveyed say they also “app and drive,” with looking at or posting to social media ranking as a lower risk compared to texting and driving or drinking and driving.
  • 80% of teens fundamentally view app use while driving as “not distracting.”

Most distressing of all is the stat that 62% of parents admit to using their phones to check incoming calls or even to answer them while driving.

As Dr. Beresin says, he’s not here to shame parents for their behavior, but to be honest, he should. With 11 teens dying each day as a result of texting and driving, trying to avoid hurting our feelings seems a bit ridiculous. Maybe we need a big, bright light shined on our bad habits in order to literally save lives.

As the mom of a nine-year-old who’s only too eager to point out my various hypocrisies as a parent (no, I’m not talking about eating candy when I told her she couldn’t have any) I hear Beresin’s message loud and clear. I never text while driving, but I’m certainly guilty of looking at my notifications while stopped at red lights. I know it’s a terrible habit. I know it’s dangerous. I know it’s no less risky than texting. I also know my kids are watching, as my daughter now calls me out when I do it.

As she should.

I may not have conversations or type on my phone while I drive, but holding or looking at my phone at all is distracted driving. There’s simply no excuse, and I know I’m not alone based not just on survey results, but on my observations while sitting at those red lights. I see adults glancing downward all the time when they should be looking at the road. “Just” glancing isn’t safe, and our kids are watching.

We are the parents and as such, the ultimate role models for our kids and their behavior. If we tell them not to text and drive or look at apps and drive, how on earth can we go ahead and do those things ourselves? No matter what we say, if we look at our phones while driving in front of our kids, they’re absorbing those behaviors. They’re being raised to think it’s ok, so it will become their default mode once they start driving.

In other words, trying to change your texting and driving habits once your kids are teens is too little too late — they need to observe us doing the right thing several years before they’re ever behind the wheel.

Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drunk driving and while we obviously need to continue hammering that message home, we need to add this in too, with just as much force. Which means we need to model the right behavior now, not later.

Our kids’ lives depend on it. Let’s not fail them.