People are attached to their phones, plain and simple! Therefore, putting down one’s phone when driving has become a challenge, even though most people inherently understand that holding a device while driving is not safe.While sitting at a light, it is easy to rationalize that we will just “take a peek” and then continue driving. When sitting in traffic, people may have a reflex type of reaction to check their phones if it is in close proximity to their seats.
When I was growing up, one of the most important things that I learned was the idea of defensive driving. I was taught to stay vigilant while driving, maintaining distance from other vehicles and to drive within speed limits. Getting lost would mean pulling over to a gas station and asking for directions (yes, times have changed!). Now, it is relatively easier to activate Waze, but we certainly don’t want to encourage our children to do this while behind the wheel.
Consider the 17-year-old kid who gets lost for the first time driving to Long Island. Perhaps consider a pair of 18-year-old college students who decide to drive to North Carolina for winter vacation. Will the driver look to activate Waze while he is driving, or will he prepare the directions ahead of time? Will the driver set an automated message on his phone that alerts others when he is driving so that there is no temptation to look away and answer the phone? These phenomena are all relatively new issues, which lead to much worry and anxiety of parents of new drivers.
It almost goes without saying that the first step is reminding parents that being a good role model can reinforce safe driving habits for our children. If our children see us on our phones, do we really expect them to heed our advice when we tell them to “put them away” while they drive? Like any issue, we run a huge risk of our children labeling parents as hypocritical if parents are not willing to serve as serious role models on such an important issue.
Preparation is important and like most issues, I recommend that parents communicate clear guidelines and expectations to their children upon embarking on this new challenge. Firstly, it is important to realize that just like any other new phenomenon in a child’s life (new school, new camp, new friends…), driving is also something very new to our children. They may have driven go-karts in the amusement park, seen driving on TV and have watched their parents drive, but there is nothing that compares to the real thing. Driving is something that requires careful practice and preparation, and parents should spend significant time making sure that their children understand the responsibility and safety issues that come with this new privilege.
Parents need to convey messages of safety and responsibility to their children. Parents need to teach their children that their focus and concern should be on the activity of driving and nothing else should compete for their attention. New drivers need to acclimate to k-turning, new roads, highway driving and other difficult challenges. All of these things may take months and perhaps longer to develop feelings of comfort and ease.
In my early driving years, I of course never had a phone and would always have to locate directions prior to driving to any unfamiliar destination. I also recall making a habit to set aside money to prepare for highway tolls. In one instance, I was not careful and I took my eye off of the road while calculating change for an upcoming toll. New drivers should be preparing for issues that arise during the early years of driving, helping to avoid instances of removing focus from the road.
Parents should demand from their children that they put their phone in a place where they have no access to it. There should be pre-determined consequences should a parent see his/her child operating a vehicle while on the phone. If there may be a situation that requires the use of the phone, parents should try to preempt the issue by providing guidance as to how to handle the situation. Discussion and communication can help our children feel more at ease with any of the following dilemmas raised to parents by their children:
“What if I am lost and need to start WAZE?”
“What if my friend won’t stop bugging me to look at the pictures on her phone?”
“So Mom and Dad, should I just leave my phone at home?”
“Mom, Dad, you know that I’m very responsible and take driving very seriously. Even if my phone is out and it rings, you can trust me that I won’t look down to get it.”
Being a responsible and trustworthy teenager doesn’t necessarily correlate with someone who will not be tempted to use their phone while driving. Being strong role models, speaking to our children and preempting their concerns with practical strategies can help to ensure their safety and the safety of others.
By Mark Staum
Mark Staum, LCSW is an educator, social worker and therapist. He is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link. If you have any questions or comments regarding this article, please email him at [email protected].