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Distracted Driving: Why Parents Should Model Safe Behavior on the Road

Jan 26, 2024
teen in the driver's seat of a car looking at the camera

As busy adults, we know how hard it can be to put our cellphones down and focus on one behavior – whether that’s driving, cooking, or even listening to our child or partner. Sometimes we forget that children and teens learn by example and look to their parents for cues about what to do and how to react.

We all know by now that driving while distracted (texting, talking on the phone, eating, etc.) can be dangerous yet many of us still do it. Have you thought about what message you are sending to your young passengers? Even from the backseat or passenger seat of your car, they are learning about what is safe and unsafe.

We, as adults, need to set a good example for everyone in the car and on the road – and that means driving distraction-free. Texting is more dangerous than talking or making a phone call while driving, but neither is safe. Texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road, but a phone call interrupts a driver’s thought process, takes his attention away from the road, and may slow his reaction time behind the wheel.

In addition, you might be teaching them to break the law without realizing it. Many states have laws about cellphone use while driving. In Ohio, drivers 18 years and older are not legally allowed to text while driving. If the officer sees you texting, you will get a ticket.

Drivers younger than 18 years in Ohio are not legally permitted to text or talk on the phone while driving – even with a hands-free device. This means your young driver can get a ticket for using his phone in any way while he is on the road – even if he is only reading texts while stopped at a red light. If you have a teen driver (or soon-to-be driver), have a conversation about distracted driving with him.

When you are in the car with your kids, what have you been teaching them about safety with your actions? When they are ready to drive, children are likely to adopt the same behaviors they’ve seen growing up. Let’s make sure those behaviors are good ones. Here are some ideas:

  • Many phones have a driving mode you can turn on to disable texting, calling, or other functions when in motion. Consider using this mode or installing an app with a similar purpose. Some cars will connect to your phone over Bluetooth and do this as well.
  • If having your phone on and within reach while driving is tempting, put it on silent so you won’t hear notifications. Try putting it in the trunk or backseat compartment or locking it in the glove box so you can’t reach it while driving.
  • If you cannot or do not want to put your phone away completely, ask a passenger to make and answer calls, read and reply to texts, or look at the calendar as you make plans.
  • Speak up if a friend, parent, or spouse is driving distracted and teach your children and teens to do the same. It’s safer for all of us, and it’s important to demonstrate how to respectfully make a request for personal safety.

You are your child’s first and best role model. Show them that safety matters. Drive distraction-free.

Center for Injury Research & Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital
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Featured Expert

Laura Dattner
Laura Dattner, MA
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy. With both a health communications and public health background, she works to translate pediatric injury research into meaningful, accurate messages which motivate the public to make positive behavior changes.

Motao Zhu
Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD
Center for Injury Research and Policy

Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD, is a professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.