This article originally appeared in the April 29, 2010 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Does your teen brag about her “fantastic” texting skills without so much as a glance up from her keypad? Does your son live to upload cell-phone pictures and videos to YouTube? As irritating as such proficiencies can be for "old-school" parents, they can be more than just annoying.
On the road, these distractions can be deadly. One report estimates that teens are four times more likely than adult drivers to get into an accident related to cell-phone use. Another found that texting was, by far, the most potentially dangerous and lethal activity related to cell phone use on the road.
Traffic crashes are the leading cause of teen fatalities, accounting for 38% of all teen deaths in the United States. Some of these accidents are caused by teens’ inexperience behind the wheel and drunk driving. Also of concern is the practice of texting while behind the wheel.
Last August, a new Missouri state law outlawed texting while driving for drivers of all ages. Three months ago, a similar statute took effect in Illinois. Many people, however, observe that such a texting ban is difficult to enforce.
This is where parents need to be involved. In addition to the state laws in Missouri and Illinois, ban cell phones yourself in your teen's car. And be a good role model yourself; that means no texting or talking (even hands-free) on the phone while driving, especially when your kids are in the car and, most importantly, don’t call your kids when you know they are behind the wheel.
Such tactics work. According to a recent study, when parents set firm rules about driving and car usage in a helpful, supportive way, it lessened by 30% teens' likelihood of talking or texting on a cell phone while driving. It also drastically reduced the odds of other dangerous driving behaviors and boosted good habits (for instance, doubling the odds that teens would wear a seatbelt).
When your teen gets a driver's license, it's important to set some rules of the road beyond the relevant driving laws. By clearly defining your expectations before you hand over the car keys, you'll reduce the risk of frustrating conflicts, costly accidents, and other problems. And most important of all, you'll feel more confident about your teen's safety. Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.