Think about the first ice or snow storm we will get here this winter. What is the inevitable conversation that happens, beyond mocking all the school systems for closing for the day before a drop of snow even falls from the sky? You got it, we mock this town for all the “people who can’t drive in the snow.” We love to laugh about those buffoons. We talk about how we grew up in Minneapolis or Buffalo and a real storm isn’t until you’ve gotten over a foot and we are such pansies around here. We all do this. But see, if we all mock these people, then some of us must also BE these people that we are mocking, otherwise we wouldn’t have such traffic disasters each and every time it snows. (Need I remind you of the day last winter where it took many people, my husband included, something like 6 hours to get home?). So look, I will be the first to admit that much as I love to mock, I am totally one of those PEOPLE WE MOCK. I’ve officially never really driven in bad snowy weather, I never owned a car in my life until I was 30 years old and we moved away from our apartment on Connecticut Avenue and well, it only snows a few times a year here (usually), so I just rely on 4WD while happily tossing my head back in uproarious laughter with everyone as we mercilessly mock “those people who can’t drive in the snow.”
I think the same can be said for texting and driving. Ashley Halsey III of The Washington Post ran a story on Wednesday about how 35% of drivers said they’ve read or sent a text while driving in the past month and 67% said they talked on the phone while driving in the past month. Interestingly, a deeper review of the survey data reveals that the majority of people believe OTHERS are more dangerous when they text and drive or chat and drive, than they are and so they overwhelmingly support laws against texting and driving. My state of Maryland just this weekend enacted the law banning texting and driving – we can now get ticketed as a primary offense for this behavior.
Back to the hypocrisy: First of all, I don’t believe that only 35% of drivers have read or sent a text while driving (does this include stopped at a red light) because look around the Beltway or any major road in DC and I see it happening every time I drive. But more to the point, we are a culture of totally agreeing with the socially responsible answer when polled but we are quick to say everyone else should do it. Just like we mock “Washingtonians” for being terrible drivers in one inch of snow…are we a nation of hypocrites? It can’t just be symptomatic of people living in DC.
Here’s why we as parents should care DEEPLY about this issue of texting and driving – because our teens are doing it and our teens are dying. According to Allstate and The Hill, from an event they hosted last week on this important issue, more than 4,000 teens are dying on our roads and highways every year. Accidents on the road are the number one cause of teenage deaths. And 4,000 teens losing their lives equates to 155 lost lives a week. Why aren’t we calling this a crisis? Why aren’t our networks spending more time on such important issues like this, instead of the guilt or innocence of Casey Anthony or Amanda Knox?
Part of the impetus for The Hill and Allstate’s event last week was to support new legislation in the Senate that will require graduated licensing laws (GDL) for teens. Provisions of the Safe Teen and Novice Driver Uniform Protection (STANDUP) Act were recently added to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Reauthorization bill in the Senate. The STANDUP Act requires minimum standards of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws. According to Allstate, state and national evaluations of GDL programs have found crash reductions for 16- and 17-year-old drivers in the 20 percent to 40 percent range. I think if you were to ask a parent who is mourning the loss of their child from a car crash, they would support a law that would reduce crashes by even one percent.
So, why does this matter if you don’t have a child old enough to drive? I think it matters to people whose children are too young to drive because the little ones are watching and learning and repeating what we do. I regularly am surprised by what my girls, who are 3 and 6, pick up from me when it was something I’d said or done days or even weeks prior to that date. Clearly our kids are watching and noticing when we chat on our cellphones and drive or when we check our emails at red lights or respond to one quickly. And in the vein of not mocking people and then being guilty, I will admit, I do that. I tell myself it’s okay if I’m stopped at a red light. But it’s not okay because do I really think my girls are going to make that distinction when they are teens learning to drive? Do I really want to be guilty of do as I say, not as I do, when it comes to their safety? Not to mention, I take the time to purchase the safest car seat, learn how to install it properly and load them into their car seats for every trip, so why would I risk their safety by being a distracted driver?
Again, hypocritical, anyone?
I absolutely love the idea another blogger, Meghan Leahy, proposed recently on this very same issue: she suggests we make it a family pledge to not check email, respond to email or talk on the phone in the car. Here’s why I love this idea – because if my kids are holding me to it and they know the rules – then I am going to hold myself to it. Look, I know it was one of Oprah’s big missions last year but I don’t answer to Oprah. Continuing my confessional theme today, even the new law isn’t as likely to change my behavior as my word to my kids and their ability to call out my infraction. And seeing as how I seem to be inadvertently raising two snitches, they will GLADLY call it to my attention.
What do you think? Care to join me in the family pledge? Finally, you can get involved by visiting facebook.com/save11 for information and resources on contacting lawmakers, inviting family and friends to take action, and lending your voice to this vital movement. Even a few minutes on that Facebook page will send goosebumps up your body because the words from parents who have lost a teenager are chilling and sobering. I really am certain that no email or phone call is worth it. At least none that I am receiving are….