It was unmistakable, the anguish on the face of the mom who asked me that question, after attending a talk on distracted driving that I had given. My 21-year-old daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver, so I know something about the pain of losing a child. But I cannot imagine what it is like to mourn for my child and also question whether my actions may have contributed to my child’s death. It would have been cruel to answer that mom by saying “yes.” However, I believe that may in fact be the case. I drove distracted with my children in the car. Casey’s death made me change the way I drive. How many of you may have also unwittingly taught your children to drive distracted?
Burying a child changes a parent forever.
On July 17, 2009, my daughter Casey was walking in a crosswalk when a 58-year-old man took his eyes off the road to reach for his GPS. He rolled through a stop sign and hit her. He said he never saw her. I miss Casey every day and will mourn her loss until the day I die. It is still at times hard to grasp that I am alive, and my child is dead, and that while I have a future, my child does not.
I am incredibly fortunate to be able to spend the bulk of my time speaking at schools, businesses, safety conferences and community events. I have given more than 800 presentations to about 200,000 teens and adults through our organization EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving). Through our network of volunteer speakers we have reached nearly 500,000 students.
How parents drive is a good predictor of how their children will drive.
More than 70% of teens who attend my presentations tell me their parents drive distracted. Teens whose parents drive distracted are between 2 and 3 times more likely to also drive distracted, as compared with teens whose parents do not drive distracted. Those findings really only confirm what should be a matter of common sense. What we do greatly influences what our children do.
It is critical that parents clearly and unequivocally communicate to their children the need to drive without distraction.
“My mom is such a hypocrite. She tells me not to drive distracted but she does it all the time.”
Why do we believe that a message that is so tainted with hypocrisy will be effective? Our children are watching us drive. We begin to teach our children how to drive long before they get their licenses. If we drive distracted, we are communicating to our children that it is okay for them to drive distracted.
Parents have good reason to be worried about their children, car crashes and distracted driving.
Many parents’ worst fear is that their child will be in a terrible crash and die. Car crashes are the leading cause of accidental death for young people ages 5-24. Teens, ages 16-19, are three times as likely as drivers aged 20 and over to be involved in a fatal crash. When it comes to our children, distracted driving is particularly devastating. Distraction is responsible for about 60% of our children’s serious car crashes.
Wouldn’t you do anything to keep your children safe?
When speaking with parents, I ask them to raise their hands if they would do anything to keep their children safe. Predictably every single hand goes up. I then ask them to keep their hands up, but only if they do not drive distracted with their kids in the car. Nearly every hand comes down and parents’ faces have a look of embarrassment and shame. Isn’t time to turn that embarrassment into action that will keep our children safe?
Simple steps to keep your children safe from distracted driving.
- Be the driver you want your child to be -Just telling our children not to drive distracted is not enough. We must show them that we do not drive distracted by modeling distraction-free driving every time we drive.
- Ask your children to help you drive without distraction - If you have driven distracted with your children in the car tell them that you were wrong to do so and ask them to watch you and speak up if you start to drive distracted. Children as young as 5 or 6 can be enlisted to help you drive safer. Teaching kids about distracted driving long before they get their licenses will go along way in deterring them from becoming distracted drivers.
- Use the Family Safe Driving Agreement - A written agreement reinforces agreed upon behaviors for drivers and passengers.
Our children are the most inexperienced of drivers. Distraction and driving inexperience is a terrible combination. Our children deserve to live long, healthy, and productive lives. Saying you would do anything to keep your children safe is not enough. They deserve and need your help to learn safe driving habits. Aren’t your children worth giving up your driving distractions?
 University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., 2012. https://news.umich.edu/driver-distraction-do-as-i-say-not-as-i-do-or-what-you-think-i-do/
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/datarequest/D76;jsessionid=D4663B76B0DF457021D49825CC83
 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/teenagers
 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2019. https://newsroom.aaa.com/2019/05/aaa-reveals-key-deadly-behaviors-for-teen-drivers-as-100-deadliest-days-begin/#:~:text=Additional%20AAA%20Foundation%20research%20using,as%20many%20as%20federal%20estimates.