Teen drivers: Take a ‘text stop’

By Anne Collier

That’s the suggestion Det. Frank Dannahey, a longtime youth division officer who has a lot of experience with the texting-while-driving issue, gives teen drivers he knows. “Just like a rest stop on the highway, you could pull over, get a latte, and text yourself silly!!”, he wrote.

Following the news that people who text on their cellphones while driving are 23 times more likely to crash than “nondistracted drivers” (see this earlier post), Detective Dannahey and other members of a great group of researchers and children’s advocates recently had an email discussion about how to educate teens on this subject. One suggested that training include the gauge-your-distraction game written up in the New York Times recently. Another that teens be shown the very graphic, frightening accident video out of the UK that has been circulating the Net lately (and can be found, with a caveat, at the bottom of ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid’s CNET post on the subject).

But I appreciated the tip from Dannahey combined with some wisdom from other discussants particularly in response to the graphic video suggestion. Patti Agatston, a counselor in the Cobb County (Ga.) School District, wrote that “those of us who work in the prevention field have learned that smashed up cars in front of high schools during red ribbon week and … have had little impact in changing youth behavior. I have been in an audience where a health practitioner showed actual car crash slides with dead bodies and actually heard kids cheer. (Remember – they are often desensitized to violence and have watched many slasher movies, so the effect is not always as intended.)”

Stan Davis of Stop Bullying Now in Maine said that we do need to come up with “new ways to deal with [young people’s] fear of being out of touch…. Just saying ‘don’t do it!’ is not much help…. The other elements of success involve peers communicating a norm in a positive way, portrayal of the positive rather than the risky behaviors in media, and activities that give teens a chance to practice the safe behaviors and thus develop self-efficacy about them.”

At face value, handing the phone to a “designated texter” in the car would seem like a good idea, but Detective Dannahey cautioned against training kids to pass their phones around. The person at the other end might feel misled about who the texter at the other end is. Even if meant as a joke, impersonation can lead to hurt feelings. And it can be abused, as we know happens in social network sites. Bad things can happen when kids pass around personal communication devices and the passwords into them. Passwords, especially, need to be private (see our tips for creating strong passwords). I loved this suggestion from psychologist Elizabeth Englander, who directs the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center in Bridgewater, Mass., that we teach our kids: “Rule your phone, don’t let your phone [or your friends] rule you.”

While we’re on the subject, ArsTechnica.com reports that the Governors Highway Safety Association is now proposing banning texting while driving.

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