700 Children's Blog

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

Jun 14, 2018
image of teen boy and a father holding car keys

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 are safe. Texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road, but a phone call interrupts a driver’s thought process, takes attention away from the road and may slow reaction time behind the wheel.

In addition, parents might be teaching kids to break the law without realizing it. Many states have laws about cellphone use while driving. It is illegal in almost every state to text and drive. If you are in a crash or pulled over for another reason and the officer sees you texting, you will get a ticket.

In some states, drivers younger than 18 years 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 in the car with kids, drivers have the opportunity to teach them about safety through action. When they are ready to drive, children are likely to adopt the same behaviors they’ve seen growing up. Here’s how to make sure those behaviors are good ones:

  • 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 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. 

For additional safety tips for your family, download the Make Safe Happen app.

Featured Expert

Laura Dattner
Center for Injury Research and Policy, Research Writer

Laura Dattner is a research writer in the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s. 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. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota (go Gophers!) and enjoys spending time outside with her husband and dog.

Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD

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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.