Should #DWT (Driving While Texting) Be A Misdemeanor, Even For Your Teens? A BlogHer Poll

3 years ago

Editor's note: Yes, Ford is a regular sponsor of the BlogHer community. No, this is not a sponsored post.

My 18-year-old son got his drunk on.

He got behind the wheel of a car, picked up his mobile phone, and proceeded to weave through traffic, texting a friend.

While I stood by and watched.

My son's drunk was actually "fatal vision" goggles provided by a Ford Driving Skills for Life clinic instructor. The teacher placed little orange traffic cones in a huge parking lot to simulate driving around our neighborhood: A stop sign. A left turn. A roundabout. Then he told my son in the drunk goggles to drive while texting me something long, like the pledge of allegiance.

That's when my new but excellent driver started running over cones, swerving past stop signs, and meandering around like a driver who is definitely distracted, possibly drunk, or both.

We parents know…there's scared. There's also scared @#$%!less. And then there's knees-on-the-floor-praying-so-hard-you're-sweaty-scared. That sweaty-scared position is how I feel about the risks of distracted driving for my kids—and I'm now scared straight myself after spending two hours at a Ford Driving Skills for Life clinic.

Turns out I'm not alone. When Ford invited me to participate (for free, full disclosure), we launched a BlogHer Poll of 50 mothers nationwide whose children are teens and either at or near driving age, depending upon their state. Click here for the full report, or scroll down to see the slideshow.

We found that distracted driving is the #1 fear named by moms we polled—in fact, we're so worried that most of us say texting and talking on the phone while driving other than in an emergency should be misdemeanor. And a few of us—me included, me especially—admit to behind-the-wheel behaviors that can only be described as driving while distracted. See if you agree...

#1 Fear Moms Have About Teen Drivers

"What worries you most for your teen driver?"

  • Being hit by a distracted driver: 26%
  • Being hit by a drunk driver: 22%
  • Mobile phone use that distracts them: 20%
Moms Say Yes, Texting and Talking on Mobile Should Be a Misdemeanor

"Should drivers, teens included, caught texting or talking on mobile phones while driving for anything other than an emergency be charged with a misdemeanor?"

  • Yes: 54%
  • No: 35%
Even Though 75% of Us Have Rules Against Mobile Phone Use in the Car, More Moms Say Teens Are Safer Without Phones in Cars Than With Phones
  • Safer Without Mobile Phones: 45%
  • Safer With Mobile Phones: 36%
Do Moms Have Rules for Ourselves? Yes!

We parents are so worried about mobile phone use while driving that the #1 answer most moms gave is "NEVER" when asked whether we drive and use our phones at the same time.

Percentage of moms surveyed who selected “NEVER” to the following activities:
  • Dialing and talking on calls without a hands-free device 32%
  • Dialing and talking on calls with a hands-free device 47%
  • Reading a GPS or map without a hands-free device 45%
  • Reading a GPS or map with a hands-free device 57%
  • Accessing websites 73%
  • Reading texts 45%
  • Writing texts 67%
  • Taking photos or videos of others inside or outside the car 78%
  • taking photos or videos of yourself 88%
  • Reading Tweets, Facebook, Instagram or other social apps 71%
  • Writing Tweets, Facebook posts, posting Instagram photos 84%
Yes, Some Moms Say We Use Our Mobile Phones in the Car

Now I need to confess: I'm not one of the excellent, responsible, "NEVER" parents. I started driving at age 14 and a half with a permit, and was driving by myself at 15, for HOURS—the next major town was three hours away. When I left Montana's pretty deserted two-lane highways for the insanity of Boston driving in college, I developed mad parallel-parking skills.

So after I moved to California and started commuting all over the San Francisco Bay Area as a reporter, and cell phones were born, I was in heaven. For me, my cell phone was like waking up with wings! I literally lived in my car, spending hours on the road, so all of a sudden I could spend hours on the phone.

My car was my LIFE. I stopped buying cosmetics in anything but tubes so I could put on my makeup in the car. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the car; I even used chopsticks. I'm sure I did my nails in the car at one point, but I stopped short of actually waxing anything in traffic (mostly because, well, I'm terrified of that whole process).

The one thing I've never done is drive drunk; I knew or heard of too many people hurt or maimed that way growing up. But other than that, my list of driving sins is embarrassingly, dangerously long. In other words…

I'm one of the 24% of moms who say we talk on our mobile phones with hands-free devices while driving with our kids in the car, even.

I'm one of the 24% of moms who say we use GPS while driving with our kids in the car.

I'm one of the 29% of moms who sneak a peek at my texts while driving alone.

I'm even one of the very, very few moms who apply makeup in the car, since 84% say we never do.

I'm one of the majority of us—61%—who say we eat while driving in the car with our kids.

I went into the clinic thinking, Hey, I'm coordinated! I'm experienced! I've never even had a speeding ticket!

I came out knowing I've been lucky, because I'm also a driver who is at serious risk for distraction, and—both Ford and the New York state troopers on hand convinced me—I'm setting a terrible example for my kids. Imagine my surprise at not being able to drive when the Ford instructors put the "fatal vision" drunk goggles on me and told me to text my way around the traffic cones. I literally couldn't operate the car … and it was an AUTOMATIC.

I staggered from the car (those goggles are nauseating; they made me feel like I had vertigo and near-blindness at the same time) toward a New York State Trooper Frank Bandiero, who laughed and nodded at my experience. I'm pretty typical, he says.

"Oh, we see distracted driving all the time," Bandiero said. "What we see a lot on the roadways are some of the things that aren't illegal. Like eating and drinking and loud music and being distracted by friends and other passengers. We see it all the time. We'll be behind a car, and we'll pull them over for driving out(side) of the lanes of traffic, and we ask them why. They may have spilled coffee or food on their lap. We get a lot of weird reasons why they are driving why they are. But we still tell them the same thing: It's not safe. You do it at your own risk and the risk of everyone else on the road, also. It's not a great idea to eat your lunch on the way to work… Eating tacos and having a soda while you're trying to drive is just not a very smart thing to do."

Actually, I think my shaken and serious 18-year-old son said it best:

"Mom, I can't believe I didn't learn this in Driver's Ed. It's the most important lesson I could have had."

The even more awful irony? Most California schools no longer even offer driver education classes. Which means the only people getting professional training of any kind before age 18 are kids whose parents can pay for lessons.

As much as I respect the driving experts at Ford, it was my own personal experience with their expert team that convinced me I need to change my habits. I'm locking my phone in the trunk where I can't reach it. I'm laying off the chopsticks and chow mein behind the wheel. And I'm recommending this excellent course offered internationally by Ford for all kids—big and little—when it comes to a town near you. It changed my habits, and I think it'll save lives.

Or, as Monica Vila, @TheOnlineMom, told a room of journalists:

What do you think of this issue and this survey? Here's a slideshow of the full survey:

Editor's note: The next Ford Safe Driving Clinics are in Salt Lake City, Utah (June 20-21). According to the Web site, Ford Drive Safe For Life is planning visits to 40 high schools in the coming year. Find out more about whether your school is on the list now.

Lisa Stone, BlogHer Co-founder

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