Dear Mr. Dad: A few weeks ago, you had an email from a 13-year old whose mother talks on the phone. You should have told the child to rat her mother out to the cops. The mother is endangering her own life, her child’s life, and innocent bystanders’ and drivers’ lives. The 13-year old should send a note to the cops saying that her mother constantly talks and texts while driving, and give them her license plate, description of the car, and where she frequently drives. The mother needs a ticket.
A: As a rule, I think kids should talk to their parents before ratting them out. But since the teen already tried talking, you and many other readers who wrote in with similar suggestions are absolutely right: the mother (and anyone else who texts or talks on the phone while driving) needs a wake-up call. Better an expensive ticket than a tragic car crash.
I also got emails from drivers (and children of those drivers) wondering whether listening to the radio or audio books is a problem. The short answer is yes, but it’s nowhere near as bad as texting or talking.
Researchers at the AAA Foundation and Virginia Tech rate mental driving distractions on a scale ranging from 1 (mild distraction) to 5 (maximum distraction). University of Utah researchers David Strayer and Joel Cooper rate listening to the radio as a 1.2 and listening to a book on tape at 1.7. Compare that to hand-free cellphone calls at 2.3 and handheld calls at 2.5. Sending a text on a perfect, voice-activated, error-free system is a 3, while updating social media while driving is a 4. At the extreme end, reading a scientific text while driving is a 5.
Unfortunately, the fact that a lot of speech-to-text systems are built into cars these days give people the impression that it’s safe to text or go through emails while driving. It’s not. In fact, the most distracting built-in hands-free systems were rated 4.6 and leave drivers distracted for as long as 27 seconds after they complete a task (at 25 miles per hour, that’s a distance of three football fields of potentially missing stop signs and pedestrians). The best hands-free systems were better – a 2.4 rating – but still left drivers distracted for more than 15 seconds.
Phone-based voice-activated systems weren’t much better: Google Now was the best, with a distraction rating level of 3.0, followed by Apple’s Siri (3.4) and Microsoft’s Cortana (3.8).
So what can we – adults as well as children – do to combat distracted driving? Here are a few important steps.
Visit the National Safety Council’s website and sign the Take Back Your Drive pledge (https://www.nsc.org/forms/ distracteddriving-pledge.aspx), committing to never drive distracted in any way, whether that’s phone calls, texts, social media updates, or anything else. You can make a similar pledge at the U.S. Department site, http://www.distraction.gov/ take-action/take-the-pledge.html.
Install an anti-distracted-driving app. Lifesaver (http://lifesaver-app.com) is an excellent one, with a parent portal and strong education component. There are plenty of other good ones out there.
Do more research. In addition to the National Safety Council and Distraction.gov, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (www.aaafoundation.org/ distracted-driving) has great information and resources.
Educate others: impact Teen Drivers (http://impactteendrivers.org) provides free workshops to schools and community groups
Change your vocabulary. The word “accident” makes car vs. car or car vs. pedestrian sound minor. The word “crash” is more accurate.
Read this column on mrdad.com (https://mrdad.com/ distracted-driving-resources). You’ll find links to more resources there. Please contact us if you have suggestions.
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