Parents! Are You Endangering Your Teen Driver?

This week’s column builds on a story narrated by my friend Jennifer from Texas. Jennifer drove all the way from San Antonio, Texas to Eden Prairie, Minnesota just to attend our 7th Raksha Walk for Distraction-free Driving on August 2. By the way, I never met her before. Now, I call her a friend for life.

I wondered what made Jennifer drive 1400 miles for someone she did not know. Her commitment to the cause of distraction-free driving had to be very personal. Her husband safely returned home from a National Guard tour, untouched by the enemy in a foreign land. Ironically, barely two weeks after his return, he fell to a fellow countryman who was busy texting while driving and totally distracted. Jennifer’s crusade against distracted driving began that day.

Now, I know.

But that is not the underpinned story for this column. Read on, please.

Armed with a newly minted driver license, Jennifer’s teenage son took her car one day for an outing with friends. She instructed him to keep his cell phone handy in case she needed to contact him. When he did not return for a few hours, she started to worry. She repeatedly called him but he was not picking up the phone. Bad thoughts started to crawl in and she got ready to call the police. Just then her son walked in. The scared mother immediately molded into a fumingly angry mother, demanding an explanation why her numerous phone calls went unanswered. The son looked into her eyes and gave a response that froze her. “Mom! You only told me not to pick up the phone while driving. I was just heeding your advice”.

It is a coincidence that with her action, Jennifer had just validated the findings of a research study presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C on August 8. The study determined that up to half of teens talking on cellphones while driving are speaking with their mother or father. “A lot of parents aren’t really aware of how important it is to be a good role model and how dangerous it is for their teen to answer a cellphone while driving,” said study author Noelle LaVoie, a cognitive psychologist and president of Parallel Consulting in Petaluma, Calif. “There is certainly [prior research] showing that parents might not be modeling the best behavior for teens,” she added, “and we know a lot of parents talk on the phone while driving.”

Would I be asking too much of parents reading this column, who fall into the above category, to look within first, before demanding distraction-free driving from their kids?