toddler walking on empty forest road away from camera

Smartphones Weaponize Teen Drivers

It only takes seconds for texting while driving to be fatal. This video shows how fast a distracted driving accident can occur.

We all know it’s a problem, but it’s not your problem until you find ways to personalize it. A year ago I was nearly run over in a crosswalk, wearing a yellow neon light across my torso, at night, by a driver turning left, not two blocks from my house. She could have just been a bad driver, but close calls have become commonplace in Hawaii. Also last year, my husband and daughter were rear-ended by a distracted driver while waiting at a stoplight. Effects of her concussion lingered for months.

Two teens I spoke with last week about driver education class had this to say:

“I was angry the other students in class were on their phones instead of listening to the instructor.”

Teen 1

“How are they going to stay off their phone while driving if they can’t do it during driving class?

Teen 2
Image by Kaori Hayama from Pixabay

This isn’t just a teen problem. 66% of adults experience anxiety and physical symptoms without their phone. Driving weaponizes them. Safer drivers start with good driving habits and an awareness of their addiction, taking steps to address it.

Photo by Hugo Pretorius on Unsplash

Nomophobia and teens

Nearly 18, my daughter is finally learning to drive. Her braking is good but not great (she’s worried about being rear-ended again) and her parallel parking is better than expected. I was especially proud to see her ignore her buzzing cell phone while carefully navigating through our neighborhood.

A lot of new and veteran drivers cannot do the same. Smartphone addiction, also known as nomophobia (fear of being away from your phone), is real and affects teens and young people (new drivers!) in alarming ways:

Other concerns

  • Addicted brains release a neurotransmitter (GABA) that slows down response time, makes it harder to pay attention, and increases distractability, according to Caglar Yildirim, an assistant professor of human computer interaction at State University of New York at Oswego.
  • Stress or fatigue can worsen phone addiction symptoms.

This freaks the hell out of me. My family spends two hours a day walking or running in our neighborhood. It is scary to realize that 1-2 drivers out of every 10 whizzing by in multi-ton vehicles can deal instant death from five seconds of texting (four out of every 10 if they are all teenage drivers).

Photo by Don Fontijn on Unsplash

What can we do to make the road safer?

  • Use the “Do Not Disturb” option every time you get in the car. Make it as automatic as wearing seat belts.
  • Talk with your teen about phone addiction and how it leads to distracted driving accidents.
  • Listen to real stories, look at pictures of distracted driving victims. Consequences of texting and using social media while driving are real and irreversible.
  • Set up your music, podcast, or audiobook then put the phone in the glove compartment or back seat to resist temptation.
  • Point out children, dogs, and families on the sidewalk that could easily become victims of distracted driving.
mom and daughter walking on cobblestone road
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash
  • Treat the problem as seriously life and death. Driving instructors should automatically fail any student using the phone during class without refund. Victims of distracted driving don’t get second chances.
  • Practice safely pulling over to the side of the road to use the phone and then put it back before continuing to drive.
  • Tell your teen how much you love him and would hate if he had to live with the guilt of killing or severely injuring a child standing at the corner waiting to cross the street or someone’s dad unloading baseball gear from the back of his parked minivan.
  • Make phone calls, even hands-free, on the side of the road (if it is safe) because inattention blindness causes car accidents too.

Because distracted driving is completely out of the victim’s control, I even tell my kids to stand on the side of the light pole away from oncoming traffic at intersections, just in case.

Be safe, dear reader. May your young drivers continue being safe, alert, and responsible.

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