You’re right to be concerned about your child’s safety. Texting while driving is a national problem that causes over 200,000 accidents per year, and young people are most likely to be both the distracted drivers and the victims in these crashes.

One of the biggest problems facing parents is that while teen drivers admit texting is dangerous—they continue to do it anyway. The majority of public safety ads warn drivers of the dangers of cellphone distraction with facts and figures, which influences older drivers while many teenagers quickly tune out.

So how can parents and lawmakers make a lasting impression on drivers who text? Washington State University researchers suggest that tough love may be the most effective weapon, including:

  • Harsh reality – WSU researchers found that public service announcements evoking the drivers’ fear of death in graphic terms were most likely to change driver attitudes toward texting. The simple act of adding a skull and crossbones symbol to an ad significantly reduced the drivers’ intention to text.
  • Emotional appeals – Parents who attempt to threaten, interrogate, or punish teenagers for texting are less likely to have a lasting effect on their behavior. Researchers found that telling a story that appeals to the teen’s emotions—such as striking a child in a crosswalk or causing an accident while his girlfriend is in the car—were more likely to remain in the teen’s mind and influence their driving behaviors.
  • Practice what you preach – Some parents may adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude, continuing to text behind the wheel while telling their children not to. Remember that the law applies to everyone—getting busted is only going to hurt your credibility with your kids.

It can be hard for parents to discuss fatal crashes in detail with their teenagers. Many do not want to scare or manipulate their children, or make them afraid to drive at all. However, these same teenagers are often desensitized to violence by real crime television shows and bloody video games. A harsh image may be the only thing persuasive enough to get teenagers to stop texting and driving.

Have you talked to your teenaged kids about distracted driving? Was it effective? Are you worried they won’t listen? Leave a comment below to let us know what worked—or didn’t work—for you.

Manfred Ricciardelli
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Morristown Workers' Compensation Lawyer