After continued instances of seeing drivers on their cell phones while driving, I decided that I wanted to compose a meaningful article that could provide practical strategies to assist parents and children with this issue. As time progresses, I have become more and more frightened as to how many drivers I see either looking at their phones while driving, looking at their phones while waiting at a light or looking at their phones while waiting behind another car during traffic. This issue really hit me even harder when a friend of mine was hit from behind by a car on the way to shul on a recent Sunday morning. It was an act of divine providence that he was not carrying any children in his back seat because, as he told me, his trunk “became his backseat.” The cause of the accident was a 19-year-old teenage girl who had looked down at her phone while she was waiting behind his car. She was not looking carefully and slammed into the back of his car.
Even though research hasn’t yet been conclusive on the topic, it is becoming clear to me that we are arriving at a place where people are becoming more and more addicted to their phones. Therefore, putting down one’s phone when driving is something difficult because people are accustomed to consistently looking at their phones at all times of the day. Putting away one’s phone at any point is difficult because it can make us feel disconnected. The fact that one is driving a car doesn’t always remind people to put away their phones in a stored location.
I have been faced with this challenge as well. I resolved to place my phone in the glove compartment of my car each time before I begin driving. As a father of an almost-13-year-old boy (and therefore not so far away from driving age), I am becoming increasingly scared of not only having to teach my son how to operate a vehicle but also having to teach him how to deal with other careless drivers who are not looking at the road while they are driving.
Before even beginning to address how to speak to our children about the use of phones while driving, we, as parents, need to resolve to act as serious role models on this issue. If you are checking your phone while you are driving, then you need to understand that your children are most probably observing this behavior. Even if you are on the phone without children in the car, it may not be so easy to put your phone down even when your children are in the car. If this happens continuously, children may perceive and may even learn that it is okay to have a phone accessible while driving. Being able to teach our children, especially our adolescent “soon-to-be driver” children to put down the phone becomes increasingly difficult when they have constantly seen their parents checking their phones while driving.
When addressing this topic with our children, let’s discuss some key points that need to be part of the parent/child discussion. 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 (as my son Shimon likes to tell me has prepared him for knowing how to drive), seen driving on TV and 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 these new privileges.
Parents should speak to their children about the use of phones while driving. Parents should validate and recognize the temptation that a child may have to glance at a phone and this is why they need to remind their children that driving itself is a new experience. New drivers need to acclimate to k-turning, new roads, highway driving and other things. Any distraction, including looking away from the vehicle, is very dangerous.
When I was an early driver and before most drivers even knew what a cell phone was, I myself took my eye off of the road and swerved off of the road. What was I doing? I was trying to count the required change for an upcoming toll. Looking back, this is something that I should have done ahead of time or not until I came to the tollbooth. EZ Pass has all but solved that particular issue, but preparation for every issue that a new driver may encounter needs to be addressed by the parents.
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. This may include all of the following that your child may say to you:
“What if I am lost and need to start Waze (a directions app)?”
“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 am 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 trusting teenager doesn’t necessarily correlate with someone who will not be tempted to use his or her 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.
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].
By Mark Staum