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Distracted driving: teens aren't the only ones

When the topic of distracted driving comes up, many parents automatically think of their teens' behavior. They worry that their teens are talking, texting or playing Pokéman Go behind the wheel. But the truth is--that while distracted driving is a concern for the parents of teen drivers--teens aren't the only ones who are looking at their phone while operating motor vehicles.

In a recent poll, 56 percent of parents admitted to checking their phones while driving. The poll was conducted for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit focused on helping families and policymakers navigate media and technology. Interviewers questioned 1,240 parents of children between the ages of 12 and 18.

'Do As I Say, Not As I Do'

Of parents who admit to checking their phones while driving, many admit to doing so in front of their teens. Parents know that doing so sets a bad example for teens, but it can be difficult to put the phone aside and easy to justify its use "only for a second."

The truth is that parent behavior is likely to have a significant effect on teens, whether they acknowledge it or not. When teens see their parents driving distracted, they can be more likely to emulate this risky behavior.

So What Should Parents Do?

Put the phone away. It's simpler to say it than to do it, but parents must put the phone away while driving. Distracted driving isn't just risky; it's against the law. Washington was among the first states in the nation to outlaw texting while driving, and non-hands free cell phone use has been prohibited while driving in Washington since 2007.

Talk with your teens. It can be challenging to talk with your teens about topics they may not want to hear, especially if you don't have a perfect record. But an honest conversation about phone use while driving is critical. It may be necessary to own up to your own bad behavior, but emphasize the risks of using wireless devices while driving.

Most teens hear a lot about talking and texting while driving in school, but the message is different coming from parents who know them. You might be met with a few eye rolls, but don't let that stop you from sharing the message.

Set clear expectations. When you talk, make sure that your teen driver understands that cell phone use behind the wheel is simply not allowed. A text or a call can wait. The only time to use a phone behind the wheel is in an emergency, in order to call 911.

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