You’ve done everything you can think of. You’ve talked to your teen, telling them they can lose their licence if they are caught texting whilst driving. You’ve even told them stories like those of keen cyclist Lee Martin, struck by driver who was texting, or of Liz Marks, who had to relearn how to speak and walk after glancing at a text.
And yet, study after study shows that drivers – especially younger ones – just won’t stop using their mobile phone behind the wheel.
“People using a mobile phone while driving is one of what police refer to as the Fatal Four, alongside drink/drug driving, speeding and not wearing a seatbelt,” The Police Federation’s Jayne Willetts has said. Still, the message isn’t translating into a change of behaviour.
Texting and driving: how bad is the problem?
At Motors.co.uk, we developed a simulation game called Time to Stop to see just how distracting mobile devices can be. In the game, drivers receive an incoming call. Answering the phone is a distraction, and ignoring it is the safe option.
We looked at the trends in drivers’ behaviours, and the results were a shock. Young male drivers are three times more likely to get distracted by their phone; 17- to 25-year-old men are 82% more likely to answer the call than the average. Even the 26- to 36-year-old male drivers were 75% more likely to answer the phone, despite having more experience. Fewer women got distracted, but still one in five women answered the call.
The consequences of this are reflected in a recent RAC study. It showed that 8% of accidents in 2014 were caused by drivers on mobiles, up from 4% in 2012. That’s 492 accidents in 2014 – 21 of which were fatal.
What it would look like if these trends continued? We ran the numbers and, if things continue, more than 3300 accidents could be caused by drivers on their mobiles in 2018, including 142 fatal accidents.
Why won’t teens put down the phone?
“It’s a real worry,” said Elisa Tomba, a parenting blogger. “I feel like I talk to my child constantly about the dangers of driving and texting, and I just don’t know if that’s enough.”
It might not be, especially if they’re in a car with friends. Researchers at Temple University in America found that teens were up to twice as risky as adults when they were doing a driving simulation game with other teens in the room. This is because the reward centres in teens’ brains are more active when they are with peers than when they are alone.
Put simply, teens are programmed to be more socially sensitive than adults. That fact explains why they’re always on their phones, updating all their social media profiles.
It can also help us get teens away from their phones when they’re behind the wheel.
Time to Stop: how we can really change teen texting and driving behaviour
As I’ve said before, we’re finding mobiles increasingly vital in our everyday lives, and consequently, the potential for in-car distraction has risen. A national safety campaign that clearly and memorably restates the law and highlights the dangers of using a mobile when driving is absolutely necessary.
Still, for a teenage brain, hardwired to value social acceptance over nearly everything else, emphasising the rules and sharing real-life consequences isn’t what changes behaviour.
Positive peer pressure and modelling good behaviour is what makes the biggest difference. Elisa found that to be true and says, “you can’t just sit them down and talk at [your children]. You have to show them.
“My phone goes into my handbag and into the back seat. When I’m driving, I’m just driving, and my child sees that.”
When teens (and people in general) see that texting and driving isn’t something everyone does – that instead it is the kind of thing that gets you judged by others – they will rethink the “rewards” of this particularly risky behaviour.