Texting and driving is unsafe and deadly. No one knows this
better than Donna Holdiness.
In 2004, her son caused a fatal car accident when he was
texting and driving. He survived, but two others died. Eight years later,
texting and driving claimed the life of her husband, Dr. Gary Holdiness, a
cyclist whom a 17-year-old driver plowed into during a lengthy text
conversation with his girlfriend.
The tragedies put this Mississippi mother and widow on both
sides of the all-too-frequent deadly consequences of texting and driving.
"There are many other wives and mothers who have lost
someone," Holdiness, who works on behalf of safer roads through a fund she
established in her husband's name, said. Her story is that of the dangerous
choices drivers are making, too. "My son survived, but killed two other people
in the car with him. I've been that mother. I know that side."
At least five percent of crashes are due to texting and
driving, and more than 20 percent involve handheld or hands-free cellphones.
That's thousands of deaths, all preventable.
Thanks to powerful PSAs and municipal and state laws levying
huge fines for drivers who text, it's universally acknowledged that texting and
driving is dangerous for the driver, any passengers and others on the road.
And yet, it's still happening.
Mom.me recently surveyed hundreds of mothers about their
texting and driving habits, as a part of National Distracted Driving month in
April. A random sampling from across the country found that only third of moms put their phones away while driving. The rest of the time? We're reading and sending
text messages while behind the wheel.
Almost 35 percent who answered the survey said
they text while driving. Almost 65 percent make phone calls while driving. More
than half use their phones as a GPS. More than 15 percent are checking email
while the cruise down the street. And a brave 10 percent admitted that they're
on social media during their commutes.
With stats like that, we moms aren't setting the best
examples for our kids, whether or not we're doing it in front of them. So how can we raise teens who don't do as we do? How do we convince ourselves to put
down the phone when we get behind the wheel?
Steve Babcock of Boulder, Colo., a father, launched a viral
campaign encouraging drivers who text to paint their thumbnails red. Like a
string tied around your finger, Babcock says the Red Thumb Reminder helps
drivers to break the bad habit. Babcock had once been an egregiously distracted
driving offender, he writes on his campaign's website. But his shiny red nail has
reminded him to put down the phone.
The unusual markings serve, too, as a conversation-starter
for him and a way of setting a better example for his 9-year-old daughter, who
will one day be a driver. Distracted driving goes beyond texting. It's also about
email, catching up on Words With Friends and posting to Instagram, while the
car hurtles down the road. All of it is dangerous for anyone in the driver's
seat. It is especially so for teens.
That's more than the number of teens who died from drunk
driving accidents. Parents know to teach teens not to drink and drive. The
statistics show they also need to find a way to keep them from off their phones
once the key is in the ignition.
Telecom giant Sprint developed a phone app that locks out
the phone if the car moves faster then 10 miles per hour. The Sprint Drive First
campaign also alerts the
person sending a text that the recipient is driving.
Does the familiar ping of a new text end the temptation to
check on the phone? Does knowing the statistical risk change teen behaviors?
What might a more effective tool might look like?
"Everyone knows somebody by now, even if it's two or three
steps removed, who's been affected by this," Babcock said. "We all know it's
bad." He says people need something right that moment to remind them. "So when
I pick up my phone and I see the red thumb, I think, 'Oh yeah. I need to put
the phone down.'"
Eventually, you realize texting was just a habit, Babcock
says, and after you break the habit, you no longer have the urge. "We know
there's a horrible consequence to distracted driving, but we want to be almost
jovial because we think we found a solution and want to focus on the positive,"
the Red Thumb Reminder founder said.
"The only way people change behavior is through repetition,"
Geltman writes. "With something like texting and driving, kids first have to
form the association of being in a car and not being on the phone."
Geltman recommends that the year before a teen will get her
license, ban cellphones from the front seat of the car—even the passenger's
seat. "When they sit in the front seat with you, they cannot use their phone."
This way, teens develop the association of being in the car without a phone.
"If they choose to sit in the back seat and use their phone,
that's fine," she says, but if they're motivated to get their license, parents
need to explain sitting up front with no phone is part of the practice. Without
enough practice, parents can remain firm and not permit the child to get his
[I]f [teens are] motivated to get their license, parents need to explain sitting up front with no phone is part of the practice.
Geltman recommends parents establish a ritual for storing
the phone when getting in the car. Does it go in the glove box or in a
backpack? She encourages parents to model this behavior and set their phones
aside while driving. Doing the same thing every time will build a strong habit
that lessens the temptation to use the phone while driving.
And teens are getting the message. A recent study found
that, while too many teens still text and drive, adults are the worst
perpetrators of all. More than 40 percent of adults from 25 to 39 years old
admitted to texting and driving frequently. Compare that to 20 percent of teens
who said they did.
YA author Lorie
Ann Grover embeds a distracted driving message in her recent novel "Hit." Grover wrote the novel after a texting driver hit her daughter's friend,
who was crossing the street. The real-life girl's injuries were severe, but she
survived and made a full recovery.
Writing about the dangers of texting and driving in a story
aimed at teen readers is another way of reaching teens, Grover said. "It's so
much easier, more palatable, when you can relate to a story or enter a
character and see the mistake and then learn from it.
"We all probably feel invincible at some time, but the story
allows us to take our guard down and imagine [having an accident] could happen
to us if it happened to this 21-year-old hot guy in his Mustang." Grover says
through fiction, she can share a truth, and make it accessible without being
It's up to parents to model safe driving habits and this
includes when to text in a moving vehicle: never. Warning teens is one thing;
showing them you won't tolerate it is another.
"I don't want any other mother to get that phone call ever,"
Holdiness said. "There are consequences and, as parents, we have to say, 'Look,
this can happen. If you're caught texting and driving, I will take the cell
"Distracted driving is the new DUI," she says. "We just have
learn how to handle it. We are making a difference, but it's a slow-go. And
that's OK, because we're impacting lives."