Distracted Driving: Parents do it, too

Are You a Distracted Driver?

Distracted driving is not something we should take lightly. Serious accidents and injuries have occurred because someone decided that their phone screen was more important than their safety of the safety of others. In fact in a poll conducted for Common Sense Media, fifty-six percent of parents admitted checking their phones while driving. And fifty-one percent of teens said they see their parents checking and/or using their mobile devices while driving.

Laura Maurer said she was not the type to text while driving. However, two years ago, when she needed to send a text to a client who frequented her hair salon, she pulled over on a country road to send it. But when she pulled back onto the road, she did something she says she will regret for the rest of her life. Her client had texted her back, and she tried to ignore the ping signaling an incoming text but ultimately couldn’t resist it. “I don’t think I even read the whole thing,” Laura said in an interview at her home. “I kind of skimmed it and sat the phone down, and when I looked up, there he was.”

She slammed on her brakes and went to swerve but clipped the tiller that Marvin Beck, a 75-year-old farmer, was pulling on the side of the road. Beck was ejected from his tractor and died at the scene. “I don’t think there is an hour that goes by that I don’t think about it in some way,” said Laura, a mom of two. “Even if I could just save one kid from not doing it or one person, I think, at least that is a little bit of comfort, you know, open people’s eyes and make them realize we need to change the way we’re driving.”

Are Your Eyes on the Road?

Laura’s story is an example of how distracted driving is not just an issue with teenage drivers. Though many of us might think teens are the ones who can’t resist checking their social networks, parents have a hard time steering clear of their devices while driving, too. “My mom is a big Facebooker,” said one high school student in Long Island, New York. “So every single second, she’s always on her phone texting and I will always tell her, ‘Mom, your kids are in the car. Like it’s one thing if it’s just you, but my little sister is with us. Can you just stop for maybe a couple minutes?’”

It’s the old “do as I say, not as I do” adage, said Deborah Hersman, president and chief executive officer of the National Safety Council. She says 95% of parents who say they drive distracted admit doing it in front of their teens. “That’s just like the grand slam of bad parenting, because you are modeling the wrong behavior, and then you’re telling the kids not to do something that they’ve watched you do potentially for years.”

David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, said when he talks to adolescents about the factors that caused them to overuse their technology, they often talk about their parents’ use of technology. “So if you want your adolescent or young adult to not use the technology, you have to model it for them,” said Greenfield. “They’re watching everything you’re doing, and they will mimic what you’re doing.”

The Outcome

Hoping to reach as many people as possible Laura, plead guilty to distracted driving and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. Sixteen days were deferred, which meant she spent 14 days in jail last summer and is now in the process of completing 200 hours of community service. Now she shares her story and warns others about the dangers of using a phone while behind the wheel.

When I asked her whether people might think she should have served a longer sentence in jail, she says that doing the community service has been a more difficult penalty for her. “Going and educating people on it has been much harder on me than jail,” she said. “The day that I give a class … I am usually going to be depressed when I get home. … I am not going to be myself, and I am usually going to be quiet and probably go to bed early.”

At the same time, she believes harsher penalties may serve as a deterrent for others. “I think there needs to be the fear of jail for some people, and they need to know how devastating it is and how much you affect so many people’s lives,” she said. “And so if it will get them to stop doing it, then absolutely I think it should be a harsher punishment, and maybe people will pay attention more.”

Distracted Driving Awareness

But even some of her friends, she says — fellow parents who know her story — still can’t seem to stay away from the phone while driving. She tells of heading to a baseball game with her husband when a friend, a fellow parent with a child on her son’s team, texted her while driving right behind their car. “When I saw her later, she said, ‘I know. I didn’t even think.’ My attitude was, ‘Don’t do it just because it’s me.’ I don’t want you to do it at all because it’s dangerous!”

As she has gone across her community, speaking at schools and hospitals and in front of youth groups, she was struck by how widespread distracted driving is. “It’s amazing how many people will say, ‘I don’t think there’s one person who hasn’t been in the car with somebody who’s been distracted at least once,”’ she said. As people admit what they have seen or even done themselves, Laura believes it might help them think twice about doing it again. It is time to take responsibility for our actions and make sure we are watching out for those around us. Are your eyes on the road?

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