Remember the commercials, my 80s generation moms? You know, the anti-drug campaign? The now classic, “This is your brain on drugs” fried egg. Or, my favorite: The furious dad walking in on the teenage boy, drug paraphernalia in hand, yelling, “Where did you get this? Who taught you how to do this?” to which the boy replies, “You, Dad! I learned it by watching you!” It was the 80s-style ‘oh snap!’ that echoed in living rooms across the country. Fast forward thirty-plus years and we are hyper-aware of the dangers presented to our children. We have created tons of safety measures to ensure they live long, healthy lives. We make them wear helmets when riding bikes in the driveway and ask their new friends’ parents if they have guns in the home before letting them play. We minimize screen time and maximize outdoor play. We schedule enriching activities to make sure they are realizing their potential. And then we hop in the car and drive distracted while we transport them to said activities.
Wait? What? April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the perfect time to be reminded of how important it is to stay focused when you’re behind the wheel. Summer is quickly approaching, the season for turning the kiddos outside to ride bikes and walk to the park. It’s also the time when we will all be shuttling our little ones to and from activities and hitting the road for summer vacations. A lot of time in the car. And a lot of potential to be distracted and cause an accident. We’ve all passed someone on the road driving while distracted. Or maybe you are this woman. An otherwise enlightened, hyper-conscious, helicopter parent texting (this includes reading messages), holding your cell phone and having an animated conversation, reaching into the backseat in a sort of “Twister: Driver’s Edition” to pick up the sippy cup that your toddler has thrown. For the third time. Being connected has become a ubiquitous part of being a 21st century parent, but driving is serious business that requires a great deal of focus to do well. And safely. So, why are we still driving distracted?
A 2011 survey by the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) conducted a survey of American drivers and more than half of the respondents said that using a cell phone, including sending or reading texts, makes no difference in their driving ability. The most likely offenders? Respondents who make at least $100,000 a year reported the highest use and perceived it as safer than those with lower incomes. Apparently wealth doesn’t buy common sense. Not surprisingly, over one-third of women reported interacting with children in the backseat while driving. Perhaps the most surprising finding was that both men and women in all age groups rarely mentioned personal safety or having children in the car as a reason for not texting or engaging in other distracted behaviors. Sippy cup retrieval trumping safety on the road? Doesn’t make sense.
Turns out, it’s a no-brainer to focus on just one thing while driving something that weighs on average 4,000 pounds. Technically, “distracted” driving can include everything from eating and drinking to yelling at the kids and using a GPS. What makes texting particularly dangerous is that it requires a driver’s “visual, manual, and cognitive attention” (Official US Government Website for Distracted Driving). Experts tell us that if you’ve written or read texts while driving on the freeway at 55 mph or faster, you have your eyes off of the road an average of five seconds–equivalent to driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. Whether you’re tooling around town or speeding down the freeway, you need to have your head in the game. I know that not one of us moms would buckle our kids in the car and take off with our eyes closed, but it has become far too easy to rationalize “just checking” our phones or saying, “I only text at stop signs.” The research is clear on this one: Distracted driving is harmful and even deadly. Imagine looking another mother in the eye and trying to explain that you killed her child because you needed to tell your partner that you’ll “b home soon”, or that you had to ask the critical question, “want 2 get takeout?” while on the freeway.
Let’s pull over and commit to one or more of the following to promote distraction-free driving:
1. Commit to driving distraction-free by taking a pledge on Distracted.gov and sharing it with friends.
2. Download apps that make it harder to break the pledge. My provider, for example, has a “drive mode” app that automatically silences text notifications and calls (you can program up to five numbers to receive or send, including 911) while you’re driving. I’ll bet yours does too!
3. Talk to your driving-age kids about the dangers of distracted driving and model good behavior behind the wheel and install distraction-free apps on their phones.
4. Follow through on the age-old, “I’m going to pull this car over!” threat when your kids act out while you’re driving. Your mommy-death stare will be more effective, and you’re more likely to get them safely home to time out if you don’t reprimand while driving.
5. Use peer pressure by calling out distracted drivers when you are the passenger.
Comment below and share how you’ve overcome distractions while on the road!