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Parents’ calls distract teen drivers

Parents’ calls distract teen drivers

Parents unwittingly contribute to their children’s motor vehicle accidents. A half of all teenage drivers talk to their parents on the phone while driving, according to a recent survey1 in the US. “Teenagers say that their parents will be really annoyed if they don’t respond to their calls straight away”, says writer and researcher at The Parenting Place, John Cowan.

The study of 395 young drivers showed they were more likely to talk on their phones to their parents, as they drove, than to anyone else. They were more likely to text than call their friends but 16% said they texted their parents whilst driving as well. “It’s great that parents and teenagers want to stay in touch. Parents call their young people out of concern for their safety so it’s tragically ironic that these calls quite probably contribute to traffic accidents”, comments Cowan. “The other thing that should make parents gulp is that this research also included interviews with young drivers, and these kids said that because they saw their own parents use their phones as they drove, they really believed it was okay. As parents, the influence of our example is always going to be potent. If there is a disparity between what we do and what we say, it will be our actions that speak loudest.”

Young people could be genuinely excused for thinking ‘everyone is doing it’: even though it is illegal to use your mobile device while driving, a survey of over 37,000 New Zealand drivers2 carried out in June, 2013, 1.3% had a cell phone held up to their head and a further 2% were probably texting. But there is now no doubt that it is incredibly dangerous – American statistics3 now estimate 26% of all traffic accidents are caused by phone use – and young people are already far more likely to have crashes anyway. (New Zealand research shows that 15-19 year-old male drivers are nine times and female drivers seven times, more likely to crash than older drivers4.)

“As parents we need to be a bit more thoughtful”, advises Cowan. “Let’s not call our kids when they are probably driving. If we do call – or take a call from them – make your first statement, ‘Are you driving? Text when you’re not and I’ll call you back.’ And, as regards setting a good example, well... that’s the toughest part of parenting, isn’t it. It’s not just saying the right stuff it’s doing the right stuff. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ never works.”

1 “Is that Mom on the Phone? Teen Drivers and Distraction”. Presentation by Noelle LaVoie PhD to American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention, August 8, 2014





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