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Why teens think they can get away with texting while driving

There are countless studies, some going back decades that report a disproportionate number of teenagers and young adults who die or are injured behind the wheel. This age group, especially the males, pay exorbitant insurance costs because insurance companies use those studies to set their rates.

Why? Why aren't we – parents, teachers and regulators – able to get the message across? Maybe because the only way they'd see it is if we texted it, and even then, would they care?

Teens are rarely long-range planners. They live for the weekend. It's the same reason most of them spend their paycheques and run up credit cards when they get the chance. Tomorrow is so far away. At 17, I wasn't wondering what my insurance rates would be when I was 28. I was wondering if that guy would ask me out, or if I could get an extension on that essay.

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Most of them have little first-hand experience with death. That's why it always rocks them hard when one of their own gets killed. It seems every spring you read of a car full of kids getting killed. The air starts getting warmer, the school year is winding down, they're playing music, and the speed kicks in. These are not bad kids. Searching for a reason why it couldn't have been your son or daughter is pointless, because it could have been. Teens in cars aren't holding each other hostage; any one of them could have been driving, and they don't drive with the intent to kill themselves.

I watched my own two learn to drive. Teens who are driving their parents' cars often don't realize how expensive it is to fix even dings and dents. Ontario's introduction in May, 2010, of a zero blood-alcohol level until age 21 has had the most profound impact on teen drivers that I have ever seen – zero is zero, so they never risk it. Hand-held device laws don't have the same teeth, and don't get the same respect.

As crashes caused by driver distraction continue to escalate, you have to wonder: if you wouldn't let your teen get behind the wheel holding a beer, why would you let them get in holding a phone? And what are they seeing you do?

It would be nice if parents used consequences that were as dire as licence suspensions and high fines. Instead, I've seen parents pay to fight their kids' speeding tickets. They do it to keep their insurance rates in line, but the message is wrong. It's almost as if the only lesson that will get through to their undeveloped brains is injury or death. All that technology in the car that is saving teens is battling the technology that is distracting them more with each model year.

Driving is the first real power many kids have. Unencumbered by a parent, that freedom alone is power. If the worst thing that has ever happened to any of them is a failing school grade, how can they imagine the enormity of dying in a crash? Insurance companies know that young males are not just more likely to be involved in a crash, they're the most likely to be killed. It's all or nothing. My sons tell me after the fact the places they've long-boarded and I just close my eyes. But boats, jet skis, motorcycles – all of it – are just deadly risk strapped to a motor.

We've historically pointed the blame at young males, but girls are catching up – they are more likely to be on their phones.

It's important for people to understand that it's not just bad kids who drive over their heads. Even entry-level vehicles are powerful under an inexperienced driver's foot, and making thousands of instant decisions requires devotion to the task at hand: driving.

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Previous generations learned to do up seatbelts, and then accepted strict drinking and driving laws. This one has to ditch the distractions, or risk ending up in the ditch.

Click here for a list of the laws and penalties for distracted driving across the country.


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About the Author
Drive, She Said columnist

Lorraine Sommerfeld began writing when she was about to turn 40, because it was cheaper than a red convertible. Her weekly column Drive, She Said, while existing in the automobile section, is a nod to those of us who tend to turn the key rather than pop the hood. More


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