“Wear your seatbelt.” I have said that phrase hundreds of times. Now, as my newly driving daughter grabs her keys and heads for her car with her cell phone buzzing, I also say, “Please don’t text and drive.”
Texting as a form of routine communication is increasing, especially among the younger population. Data from the Pew Research Institute states that cell phone owners between the ages of 18 to 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day. That’s more than 3,200 text messages in a month!
The trouble begins when people start texting while driving. It seems to be innocent enough – after all, it’s just looking at the phone for a brief moment. However, if you’re driving 55 miles per hour and take your eyes off the road for just a few seconds, it can equal driving the length of a football field without watching the road!
Texting while driving contributes to nearly 25 percent of all vehicle crashes and causes about 1.6 million accidents per year. For teens, it means 11 deaths per day. Young adults make up the youngest group of drivers who text the most – of all drivers, 18 percent admit to texting while driving and up to 49 percent of drivers under the age of 24 do so.
The laws vary state to state. Kansas bans text messaging for all drivers, and when classified as a novice driver or hold an intermediary license, you are not allowed to use a phone in any way. Missouri bans texting for all drivers age 21 and under.
One of the best ways to help prevent your teen from texting while driving is leading by example – if you text while driving, it gives them permission to do the same. Pull over to a safe area to text or talk on the phone. Also, make sure your teen is aware of the texting and driving laws in your state, and understand that not only is it illegal but can also cause serious injury or death.
With most schools starting this week, more teens will be sharing the roads with you during your daily commute. Be sure to set family rules of no cell phone use while driving and constantly reinforce them as your teen heads out the door each day. And remember – lead by example. So, daughter of mine, please don’t use your phone while you drive.
Gregory Sweat, MD, is the Medical Director of the Shawnee Mission Physicians Group and practices Family Medicine at Shawnee Mission Primary Care - Prairie View Medical Building.