Teenagers Say Parents Text and Drive

Teenagers Say Parents Text and Drive – The New York Times

By KJ DELL’ANTONIA

Do you text when you drive?

Most adults know that the “right” answer to that question is an unencumbered no, and most parents would make that an emphatic “no,” as in “I don’t text and drive, and you, child of mine, shouldn’t either.” That’s the message that comes from everyone from Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls to Randall Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T.

But a recent survey from Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions finds teenagers outing parents for “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy: 59 percent of teenagers reported seeing their parents text and drive. Is our answer to that question really more qualified than we admit? No, except on a really quiet road. No, except at stoplights and then just for those last few characters after. No, except … when I do.

The teenagers in this national survey reported that their parents engaged in a variety of unsafe or distracted driving behaviors, from drinking to talking on their mobile phone (which an unsurprising 91 percent of teenagers say their parents do at least once in a while, in spite of research showing that even a hands-free mobile phone conversation significantly slows driver response time). A depressing 78 percent of teenagers reported texting while driving themselves: 27 percent often or very often, 24 percent sometimes, 28 percent at least rarely. Only 22 percent even pretended to reach that highly desirable “never.”

“Kids begin to learn to drive long before we think they do,” said Dave Melton, director of Transportation Consulting Services at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. “They go to the driving school of mom and dad for a long, long time. How can we expect them to do anything other than what we’ve taught them?”

For parents who hope to demonstrate to their teenagers how distracting texting and driving can be, Mr. Melton suggests having them describe the road around them while, in the passenger seat, trying to send a text or dial a number. Although there are apps on the market (like SafeTexting for Android phones which prevents texting while in a moving vehicle, and can be turned off by passengers, or Hatchback, an iPhone app still in beta testing that makes a game of completing trips without texts), Mr. Melton discourages trying to outsource this to technology. “Parents have to get involved, and stay involved.”

And if any parents among us are still convinced that they can send just a quick “yes” without taking their eyes off the road, this game from the developers in the newsroom at The Times might convince you that you’re not as fast — either reacting or texting — as you thought.

A shorter version of this post appeared in print on Sept. 27, 2012, on Page D2 of the New York City edition with the headline, “Witnessing Adults Who Text and Drive.”

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