We've all been there: The urgent text comes in while you're driving home from work, school or the gym. For a split second, you think, "I shouldn't respond while driving," but the urge is too strong, or maybe you feel confident you can handle driving distracted.
You pick up the phone with one hand, frantically looking up and down to read the text and respond, all while cruising at high speeds or navigating stop-and-go traffic. You finish and click send, dropping the phone and feeling both relieved and perhaps a little overconfident. You may even feel like you're in control.
A deadly choice
While we may be able to convince ourselves we are in control when we text and drive, the reality is that driving distracted is extremely dangerous and can be a deadly choice both for us and the people around us.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 people died from distracted driving in the U.S. in 2015, and an additional 391,000 were injured. These sobering statistics equate to about nine deaths and 1,000 injuries per day from distracted driving, which includes talking, texting, eating or drinking, and fiddling with the stereo or navigation.
Why is texting so dangerous?
So what is it about texting and driving that is so dangerous? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three main types of distraction while driving. These include visual distractions, which take our eyes off the road; manual distractions, which take our hands off the steering wheel; and cognitive distractions, which take our mind off driving. Texting while driving is particularly dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions.
Perhaps you take your hands off the wheel to scroll in search of the perfect emoji, or are simply thinking carefully about the right way to respond in a tricky conversation. Either way, it's very easy to become distracted. Convincing yourself it's okay to respond because it "only takes five seconds" is not a valid excuse. For example, taking your eyes off the road to read or respond to a text for only five seconds, while driving at highways speeds (~55 mph), is like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed. A lot can happen in five seconds, and your eyes, hands and mind should all be 100 percent engaged in driving to reach your destination safely.
Talking about texting and driving with your teen
If your 15-year-old has a hard time doing anything without his or her smartphone in hand, chances are they will struggle to put the phone away when they get a driver's license.
According to the NHTSA, teens were the largest age group reported as distracted at the time of fatal crashes. So, what can you do if you're a concerned parent of a teenager? Before your teenager receives his or her driver's license, have a serious conversation about distracted driving and each driver's responsibility to drive safely. Help them understand that choosing to take eyes off the road, even for a few seconds, can be a matter of life and death for them, a friend or a stranger.
The Federal Communications Commission recommends giving simple and clear instructions to new drivers to not use their phones or wireless devices while driving.
Sign the pledge
Take this opportunity to have all the drivers in your household sign the "Stop Distracted Driving - Stay Focused on the Road" pledge (listed on this page).
Finally, remember the power of leading by a good example. Encourage your teen to be a messenger to their peers by never texting and driving and by encouraging their friends to avoid the deadly choice of driving distracted. Be sure to also remember that you as a parent can lead by example, too. Make the choice now to avoid the buzz, beep or ring, and resist the urge to text, tweet or search on your cell phone while driving.