This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
When it comes to distracted driving, texting-obsessed teens are the problem, right?
That’s only partially correct. It turns out, they’re just modeling their elders’ behavior. Almost half of adults say they text and drive, even though they’re well aware that it’s considered dangerous. A slightly lower percentage of teens, 43 percent, admit to driving while texting.
But that actually may be a bigger problem because teens aren’t as experienced behind the wheel as older drivers; the under-20 age group has the highest proportion of distracted-driving fatal crashes, says the Centers for Disease Control. And while a slightly lower percentage of teens than adults might text, those who do tend to text a lot. Teens are more likely than adults to expect immediate responses – and to immediately respond to text messages they receive, even if they’re driving.
How dangerous is texting while driving? A recent study found that a driver who is texting is as impaired as a driver with a 0.16 blood-alcohol level – twice the legal limit.
Texting while driving is also illegal – and has been in this state since June 2010, with offenders risking a $124 ticket. Along with using a handheld phone, it is a primary offense; a police officer doesn’t need any other excuse to pull the driver over.
The most important way parents can help keep their teen drivers safe is to model safe behavior themselves. And they need to make a rule that texting while driving is unacceptable and will have consequences if the rule is ignored.
AT&T, which has a “Texting and Driving . . . It Can Wait” campaign, says that failing to have such a rule is one of the most reliable predictors for whether a teen will text while driving.
In the long run, some experts say, hands-free texting technology – becoming more available with mobile apps – could help prevent many distracted-driving accidents. Until those are widely used, parents need to send strong messages about texting while driving.