Editorial: Teens using cell phones a danger on the roadways

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

To hear some people, talking on a cell phone while driving is as easy as walking and chewing gum.

Can it be surprising their lackadaisical attitude has rubbed off on their children?

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released a study Monday that found that teenagers have been largely indifferent to laws making it illegal to use their cell phones while driving. The laws have been passed in the last five years; a similar law in Illinois was passed in 2005. The institute is a nonprofit advocacy group funded by the insurance industry.

Researchers from the institute measured compliance with laws prohibiting cell phone use as high school students in North Carolina left school. They compared it with the rate of cell phone use in South Carolina, where teenagers are not restricted from cell phone use. Researchers found the rates of use were about the same.

Why don’t people let teens mind their own business?

Because traffic crashes are the leading cause of teenage fatalities. For drivers of all ages, driver distractions and inattentive driving are responsible for 25 percent of all crashes and 10 percent of fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a government agency.

The Illinois secretary of state helps people do the math: That’s more than 4,300 crashes each day.

Of course, we know that teenagers are too smart to get in a crash. We know because they tell us so, but statistics tell a different story.

Teens are high-risk drivers, and new teen drivers are the riskiest of the risky. Teenage drivers have a fatality rate that is three times higher than older drivers. The crash rate for 16-year-olds is twice that for 18-19-year-olds.

We have supported laws that restrict the privileges of teen drivers, such as prohibiting cell phone use or limiting the number of passengers in the car. It’s not that we enjoy being curmudgeons or don’t remember what it’s like to be young. We also understand the inconveniences that these restrictions place on parents.

A driver’s license means freedom for the teenager and freedom for the parents as well.

And it’s tough to keep track of the array of teen-driving laws. (If you are confused or need a refresher, click on the secretary of state’s Web site at cyberdriveillinois.com and look for the icon on the home page that reads, “Teen Driver Safety.”)

The insurance institute sympathizes with police somewhat by saying that cell phone bans are difficult to enforce. If teens use hands-free devices, they are hard to see. It is also hard to gauge how old drivers are.

Blah blah blah blah blah. If police put a priority on enforcing these laws, we’d bet compliance would increase. The study said 71 percent of teens and 60 percent of parents reported enforcement was rare or nonexistent.

We don’t let parents off the hook either.

Parents should communicate to their teenagers that obeying traffic laws is not only expected, it could be the difference between life and death.

Even if police officers make a more concerted effort to enforce cell phone bans, they won’t be able to stop every teenage violator. They won’t be able to send the message that parents are unwilling to send themselves.

Whether a child is 6 or 16, parents are the best teachers.

“Parents play a big role in compliance with graduated licensing rules,” Anne McCartt, the insurance institute’s senior vice president for research, said. “Limiting phone use may be tougher for them since many want their teens to carry phones.”

How ironic that the thing parents believe will help their kids — quick access to help in an emergency — ends up endangering them behind the wheel. Tell your teens to pull over before they use their cell phones or, better yet, stop using your cell phone yourself. You need your wits about you — gum chewing optional.

Rockford Register Star