No parent wants to lose a child, and no child wants to lose a parent.
Cell phone use – handheld or hands-free – is dangerous for any driver – regardless of age. This is one situation where experience doesn’t make us safer – nor does a hand-free device. The reason is because the distraction occurs in the brain.
Think about it, all a hands-free device does is allows the driver to put one more hand on the steering wheel. People drive stick shift vehicles all the time with one hand and don’t crash. The problem is that the brain has to work harder to have a conversation on a cell phone. The disembodied voice is harder for people to talk to because the brain has to work more to determine things such as tone – is this a joking tone or an angry one?
The brain switches focus between driving and processing what’s in the driving environment to the cell phone conversation. This switching happens so fast, we don’t realize it. There is no perceived danger. As a result, we don’t notice what the brain isn’t capturing and processing in our driving environment. That’s why we hear of so many crashes involving drivers hitting pedestrians, running lights and t-boning cars. Those drivers were so cognitively distracted that their brains filtered out that information.
There’s an opportunity here for families to work together to end cell phone use while driving, keep one another safe and hold each other accountable.
For the most part, we know when we are going to be driving at various times of the day – leaving for work/school, heading home at the end of the day, driving to sports practice, running errands, etc. Make a point that family members will not call one another during those times. Set the expectation that it’s ok to let a call go to voicemail so long as that call is returned within 15 minutes. This gives the driver time to pull over in a safe location or reach his or her destination. Plus, if it’s urgent and it’s bad news, the person shouldn’t be driving when that news is delivered.
Have you seen the Subaru commercial called Baby Driver? I love this commercial. It’s a great example of how parents can talk to their teens about cell phone distracted driving. The dad says to his daughter as she’s heading out “Leave your phone in your purse. I don’t want you texting while driving.” Later in the commercial he says, “Call me, but not while you are driving.”
This commercial does a great job of showing us how we can have this conversation with teens. But let’s not forget that teens can have these conversations with us too! And we should be encouraging that.
Regardless of how you have the conversation, the important part is that you have it. Let your family members know it’s ok to speak up when it comes to drivers using their cell phones. Not only is it unacceptable for your family members to use their cell phones while driving, but you also don’t want them taking calls from drivers who are using their cell phones or being passengers in a car where the driver is engaged in a cell phone conversation.
It’s going to take all of us speaking up in order for change to happen. Think about the impact your family can have in your community just by having a conversation.