Jeff Bogle cites a recent study which claims that parents are the primary influence on how their children will drive one day, arguing that it is more important than ever for parents to put down their phones and model safe driving behavior in front of their kids.
It’s all connected. All of it. I’ve never had a drink, I’ve never done a single drug, and I try like hell to never look at my phone to read a text or change a song while at the helm of the family car. My burning desire to be keenly aware for and of every waking moment started long before alcohol and drugs were available options, during a time when phones were still tethered to walls, and people bought, like actually paid for, music from a place called Wall to Wall.
I can trace my intense adult observationism to my childhood and to the backseat of a Cadillac in 1986.
When I was a young boy, plopped in the back of my daddy’s palatial Caddy going from one Civil War Battlefield to the next (yay, Union!), to and from school (I wasn’t ‘bus’ material), and to everywhere else we traveled, my eyes were glued to the front dash, fixed on my dad’s hands on the wheel, steadily watching other driver’s in front of and around us, and witnessing my father’s reaction to it all. I learned how to drive years before my pudgy legs could reach the gas pedal, simply by observing my dad (who did all of the driving I can remember from way back then).
According to a study conducted by Toyota and the University of Michigan (and just to be clear, you know this is important stuff if I’m quoting something soaked in Maize and Blue—Go Green! Go White!), my personal mid-80’s car observatory scenario isn’t the least bit uncommon. This new research from Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center and UM’s Transportation Institute indicates that parents are the number one influence on how their teens will drive. On one hand, this is kind of a ‘no duh’ finding, right? I mean, it seems totally obvious that kids learn by watching their parents (see: the hilarious “…you alright! I learned it by watching you!” 1980’s pot PSA), but, on the other hand, having empirical evidence published in a major research study can sometimes be the kind of transformative dial mover that gets regular folk to realize the super obvious facts that’ve been right under their nose and directly behind their wheel the entire time.
Fortunately, there’s some simple stuff you can do to positively impact your world. For starters, put down the phone, keep your eyes on the road, and drive confidently but not stupidly, because 1). it is the right thing to do for everyone else with whom you share the road and 2). your kid in the back is processing EVERYTHING (even when we think they’re not…THEY ARE!) and will go on to make future decisions based on what they’ve witness you doing while driving.
Think about it for a sec, our kids are observing what’s goin’ down in the front seat from the minute we free them from their rear-facing hell. If those adorable drooling babies end up as teens who text and drive and paint their nails at red lights, chances are we screwed up by showing them that that kind of shit is cool while behind the wheel. So stop, ya know, and drive.
Also, you (and your teen if you’ve got one) should check out TeenDrive365, a noble online initiative from Toyota offering parents and teen drivers tools, expert advice, local events and social media elements like cutesy and clever GIFs that the internet adores so much, that hopes to inspire everyone to be safer drivers together. It doesn’t matter if your kids are 6 or 16, being a better parent means being a better driver.
In the original version of this post, I go on to talk about some of the specifics on the TeenDrive365 site, but just after I published it my daughters and I were almost hit by a young driver with one hand clearly on her smart phone as she whipped around a corner to cut through a bank’s parking lot, a bank my girls and I were just leaving. Thankfully, I had my head up and saw her coming with time to spare for braking and I saw her left hand grasping a phone; black-rim case, Facebook messenger active. Yeah, she came that close to us. Her eyes never once looked in our direction. We were seconds and inches away from our lives being forever changed.
While the cinematic coincidence of being crashed into by a distracted teen driver minutes after published this story would have been perversely comical, we were able to stay safe because I luckily wasn’t changing a song or looking at a text from my wife in that moment. I’m not perfect behind the wheel, I can admit that freely, but I strive to be, whether I’m driving solo or with my daughters in tow, because I know full well that they are back there observing, processing, and learning from my behavior up front just as I was nearly three decades ago in the back of my dad’s 1985 Cadillac Sedan deVille.
I recognize there might be a fair amount of distracted driving awareness fatigue setting in across the country, I get it, but I freakin’ beg you to drive smarter and be more aware when behind the wheel so that the next generation might do the same.
Original version of this article appeared on Out With The Kids; Images courtesy of the author