Teen driver resists the texting temptationby Asma Adam, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Traffic crashes were the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year olds in 2010, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
For those young drivers, texting can be a tempting distraction. It's illegal to text and drive in Minnesota, but some people do it anyway. In this new installment of our Young Reporters Series, 18-year-old Asma Adam tells us she won't be one of them.
I don't have my driver's license yet, but I will get it this summer. I do have a cell phone and like many people my age, my phone is always nearby. And if I'm behind the wheel, I know that can be a huge danger.
The first time I got behind the wheel of our family car to drive, I was excited as I started the engine for the first time, backed out of the garage while trying to avoid our basketball hoop, and not hit the neighbor's car. I knew learning to drive would be hard. And I wasn't even texting.
Recently, my dad, Abdisalam Adam, was giving me a ride to an appointment and we talked about driving. He says driving is a rite of passage for teenagers.
"I think teen driving is part of life, and is part of their initiation. There is so much they can do with the privilege of driving," he said.
Having my license would make life so much easier. I wouldn't have to wait on him to pick me up; I could go where I need to when I need to, meet up with friends and do my own thing.
My dad has been encouraging and he thinks I'm ready to drive. But when I ask if he thinks I will be a safe driver, he hesitates.
"Well, it's hard to tell. I mean, I believe you are responsible, generally speaking, but you never know. There is peer pressure. But on the most part I think you are a careful person."
I will be careful, but he's got reason to worry. There are lots of distractions on the road. Even though it seemed like a conversation to me, my dad was distracted by this interview.
I asked my dad if he thinks teens take driving seriously.
"For the most part they do, but some make bad, bad -- my mind is not OK with the cars around..."
My dad was trying to concentrate on the traffic, but answering my questions made him miss his exit on the highway. Eventually, he answered my question about whether he thinks teens take driving seriously.
"For the most part they do, but there are some who make bad decisions mainly, mainly rushing." My dad added, "and I would advise them to take their time, to plan ahead when they go to places and to see the dangers of driving too fast or texting and not paying attention."
After my conversation with my dad, I did a little research about distracted driving.
A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the use of electronic devices was the leading cause of distraction for all teens. Texting and driving is illegal for all drivers in Minnesota and those under 18 can't use a cell phone at all while driving -- for talking or for texting.
PARENTS PLAY A KEY ROLE
Some experts say that parents play a key role in reinforcing these laws. Gordy Pehrson is a teen driving expert who teaches the rules of the road to both teens and parents. Pehrson says many parents would do anything to get their kids driving.
It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice from parents to drive their kids around everywhere, since teens are so busy with after-school meetings, sports, volunteering and work. But Pehrson says it seems like some parents are more concerned with convenience than their child's safety.
"It might be a little inconvenient to have limitations on your newly licensed teen driver. But I can't think of anything more inconvenient than burying my kid," he said.
Last month a 16-year-old Pine City girl died in a car crash. Investigators say texting was a contributing factor. Cell phone records and a statement by the girl's passenger confirm that.
Just like any task we partake in, Lt. Eric Roeske from the Minnesota State Patrol says all drivers must focus on the road, and young drivers need to realize driving is a developing skill.
"The more experience we have, the better we are at it," said Roeske. "If you're new driver, so many of the experiences you have are new, it can be very dangerous. If a young driver recognizes that, they'll be ahead of the curve as far as knowing what their limitations are."
I know I won't be texting while I drive, but are there other teens who feel the same way? I talked with my friends and with other teens. They told me they don't text and drive -- for the most part; maybe a one-word reply here and there but never more than that.
Eighteen-year-old Kendall Buckley is a high school senior from Cottage Grove. She's been driving for two years. She says texting won't happen in any car she's in -- as a driver or a passenger.
"When I drive with people I tell them not to text and drive or I take their phone away, because I don't want to be in a car with someone like that," said Buckley. "Because if I'm not going to do it, someone shouldn't be doing it because that's putting my life in their hands."
This really hits home. I'm not going to let texting by anyone -- a friend or myself -- put me in harm's way. Sending a text message while you're in a car seems like a selfish choice -- one that can harm many people.
My dad and I are in the car again and I continue to distract him with my questions. I ask him what he thought about texting.
"Texting is not safe and driving needs 100 percent attention. You can make a mistake in a split second and regret [it], so texting definitely should not go with driving."
When the traffic slows down and the coast is clear, I ask my dad if he'll miss driving me places once I get my license.
"Absolutely," he tells me. "I feel bad that I'm going to lose driving you to places. I enjoy it so much and I find it very hard to let it go. I wish you would just stay with me and sit by me all your life."
In his joking answer, I know what he says is true -- the time we spend together in the car will be gone once I drive. But as my dad begins to let go and we lose our time in the car I'm sure we will find a new bonding experience together. But I won't text him while I drive.
- All Things Considered, 04/30/2012, 5:50 p.m.