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New driver Brandi Eadie, 16, reads a text message as she drives through a rubber-cone course in Seattle in January to demonstrate the dangers of phone use while driving. Eadie, who volunteered for the Driven to Distraction Task Force of Washington State event because she thought she could show organizers that she could safely drive and text at the same time, knocked down multiple cones meant to simulate where pedestrians or other objects could be. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)
New driver Brandi Eadie, 16, reads a text message as she drives through a rubber-cone course in Seattle in January to demonstrate the dangers of phone use while driving. Eadie, who volunteered for the Driven to Distraction Task Force of Washington State event because she thought she could show organizers that she could safely drive and text at the same time, knocked down multiple cones meant to simulate where pedestrians or other objects could be. (Elaine Thompson/AP Photo)

Better Driver

Teens, cellphones and cars Add to ...

Whether it is what they wear or eat, who they listen to or watch or how they talk, teens in Canada and The United States have a great deal in common.

With that in mind, a recent piece of research conducted among American teens has some likely validity here. The research, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Accident Analysis and Prevention, links the positive and negative beliefs of teens about not using a cellphone, with their likelihood to do so.

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It found the best way to convince teen drivers to stay off the phone while at the wheel is to emphasize the positive effects of that decision rather than highlight the negative outcome of cellphone use while driving.

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The results come from the National Young Drivers Survey of more than 5,500 teenagers, part of the Young Driver Research Initiative created by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance. YDRI was established to use scientific research to understand and predict teen driver crashes in hopes of helping prevent them. As is the case in Canada, motor vehicle crashes remain the No. 1 cause of death among teens in America. The information and tools generated by the program is continuously updated and shared with policy makers, educators, teens and parents on www.teendriversource.org.

This latest survey asked teens to share positive and negative effects of refraining from using their cellphones while driving. Those that seldom use their phones while at the wheel tended to cite positive motivators while those who frequently use cellphones while driving referred to the drawbacks of not using their phone.

"When it comes to predicting their frequency of cellphone use while driving, the positive beliefs teens have about refraining from this behaviour are more powerful than their negative beliefs," says Jessica Hafetz, the study's lead author. "More specifically, teens also attached more weight to safety-related beliefs over those that are purely social. For instance, the positive belief of paying attention to their driving was more important than the negative beliefs of seeming less social and missing out on gossip or important news."

The benefits teens cited included being able to pay more attention to their driving, being less likely to have a crash and obeying the law.

On the other hand, those who admitted to frequent phone use while driving said the drawbacks of not using their phone were more important than the benefits. Those drawbacks are perceived as getting lost or forgetting something, not being able to let others know where they are or when they will arrive and not having their parents able to reach them.

While researchers consider these to be valid concerns, they say there are alternatives and offer practical advice for parents and educators speaking to teens about using a cellphone while driving:

  • Acknowledge the desire to have a cellphone in the car for emergency purposes.
  • Convey a clear message that the phone should never be used while driving.

Susan Hood, claims vice-president at State Farm, says we need to "truly connect" with today's teens if we want to prevent crashes and save lives. "That means empowering teens to do the right thing by giving them viable alternatives to talking or texting while driving. Teens don't respond well to messages and restrictions that appear punitive or controlling or that single teens out as a group."

The authors of the study say positive practices for cellphone use in a vehicle include:

  • Complete any call or text before starting the car.
  • Know directions before starting the car rather than relying on a cellphone call or GPS.
  • Check in with friends or parents only after you arrive.
  • Pull over to a safe place for urgent calls or have a responsible passenger use the phone.

"This study adds to the growing body of scientific literature that illustrates the importance of basing public health messaging for teens on strengthening their existing safety beliefs as opposed to using 'scare tactics' to change their behaviour," Hafetz says.

"We're always telling teens about the negative consequences of certain behaviours. Let's instead flip it around and focus on the positive things that can happen when they do the right thing."

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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