Candace Klein changes her Facebook status, like, a lot. The East Brunswick, New Jersey, teen says her mother has already been warning her about using a phone while driving. “I don’t even have my learner’s permit yet!,” she laughs.
“I make sure I don’t use the phone when she’s in the car,” says her mother Bonnie. “I want to set a good example for my daughter.”
Experts say it’s important to talk to teenagers about appropriate boundaries for cell phone use, particularly as they approach driving age. In 2007, the AAA reported that cell phone use while behind the wheel caused 21 percent of deadly motor vehicle accidents involving teenagers 16 to 19 years old. The AAA expects a 4 percent annual increase. Cell phone use in cars by teens is a growth industry.
The statistics tell the story: 87 percent of teenagers believe that texting while driving is dangerous; and 80 percent of teen girls and 58 percent of teen boys have admitted they’ve texted while driving.
Parents arguably have a new ally in the battle to curb teen texting while driving: technology. Cars equipped with high-definition screens led the innovations in the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show last year. The new screens can read tweets aloud, so you don’t have to look at your phone. They can also upload photos and videos and browse the Internet. But do these infotainment systems provide a safe portal to the Internet? Though they come equipped with voice controls and even block Internet use while a car is in motion, teens pose a particular threat.
Insurance companies know that teenagers aren’t just the most dangerous drivers; they are also the most distractible. Experts worry that tech-savvy teens will find a way to override even the most sophisticated safety measures.
“It’s going to be a tall order for a high school student to keep his eyes on the road when a 3-D screen flashes Katy Perry while he’s steering,” says Colorado personal injury attorney Daniel R. Rosen. “I fear the almighty dollar is trumping teen safety — profit over people,” he adds.
Some wonder why teenagers need Internet access in a car at all. Do the dangers outweigh the benefits? The stats sure seem to indicate they do.
“Even if Candace has an emergency while driving, I want her to pull over to the side of the road before using her phone,” Mrs. Klein says, shaking her head.
Pari Chang is an attorney, single mother of two, and professional journalist for SixEstate. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, SELF, Glamour, Redbook, and other renowned publications.