This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
If a superbug were killing more than 3,000 American teenagers a year and seriously sickening more than 300,000, parents would be screaming for something to be done to protect their children.
But there’s no superbug. What’s killing and injuring teens in such extraordinary numbers is texting while driving. They’re now more at risk from being killed while texting than while drunk.
Many of these teens are only following their parents’ examples of using their cellphones while driving, either for making calls or texting. One-third of adults 30 to 65 admit to texting while driving.
Teens are already inexperienced drivers. Combine that with taking their eyes off the road for a few seconds to type out a message and it’s easy to see why so many young people are becoming statistics. The number of crash-related fatalities in the U.S. had been declining in recent years, but those numbers are on the rise – no doubt in part because more people are texting while driving.
While drinking and driving has fallen among teens by 54 percent since 1991, texting has exploded in the last seven years. Almost half of teenage boys, 45 percent of teen girls and a staggering 58 percent of 18-year-olds admit to texting while driving.
Laws against texting while driving don’t appear to be having much effect; teens text just as much in states with texting bans as in states that don’t have one. The reason likely is that it’s hard for law enforcement officers to catch texters in the act. But when they do, they should not hesitate to issue tickets. Forget the warning; a hefty ticket has a better chance of getting their attention.
What more can be done? Teens tend to think that they are invincible, that terrible things happen to others, not to them.
Parents have to be on the front lines of fighting this epidemic of texting-related deaths and injuries among teens. They have to use all their parenting skills and threats – such as loss of phone privileges if their children are caught texting while driving – to get teens to alter their behavior.
At this time of year, many parents are focusing on keeping their teens from driving impaired by alcohol after get-togethers celebrating graduation or the end of the school year. Parents should be at least as concerned about the text messages teens are sending to find out where the party is.