Texting While Driving a Major Problem for Minnesota Teens

Anybody who knows a teenager is acutely aware of the complex relationship between teens and their cellphones. The phone, it seems, is a constant presence - popping up during family dinners, study time, church services and all sorts of other inappropriate moments. Most of the time, the worst consequence of teenagers' phone addictions is momentary rudeness. However, when teens bring out their cellphones behind the wheel, the results can be deadly.

Auto accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers in the United States. A lot of the risk comes from the fact that teens are inexperienced drivers and tend to make more mistakes than adults. Texting while driving only compounds the danger. According to research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting makes a driver 23 times more likely to get into an accident. Reading a text message is just as dangerous as sending one.

Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that teens are getting the message. In Minnesota, it is illegal for any driver to use a cellphone for any reason - including making calls, texting or entering data into a GPS program - except to dial 911 in an emergency. Still, many teens disregard this law. Paul Atchley, a professor and researcher at the University of Kansas, recently told Minnesota Public Radio that nearly every teen texts and drives at some point.

How Can Teen Texting Be Stopped?

Atchley was part of an MPR panel on the problem of teen texting while driving. That conversation resulted in a list of tips parents can use to help their teens stay safe from distracted driving:

  • Set clear rules: Make sure teens understand that their driving privileges are contingent on an agreement not to text behind the wheel. If they break this rule, take their keys away. Teens who can't resist the temptation should put their phones in the trunk or backseat.
  • Be observant: Watch teens when they are driving, and help them be aware of potentially dangerous habits.
  • Set a good example: Refrain from texting and driving yourself, and ask other adults who give rides to teens to do the same.
  • Explain the law: Make sure teens understand that it is just as illegal - and just as dangerous - to text at stoplights or in slowed traffic.
  • Talk about the consequences: Be frank about what could happen in a texting while driving accident. Make sure teens understand that they could die or kill another person. Ask them if they think any conversation could be that important.

Teen texting will only stop once young people begin to understand the real dangers of distracted driving. By talking with the teens in your life, you can help make Minnesota's roads safer for all motorists.