I spend a lot of time speaking to groups of parents about traffic safety. I’m frequently asked, why the parents? You probably know the answer by now. Based on over 20 years of research, any meaningful change to America's distracted driving culture will have to include new education ideas to help parents with children of ALL ages.
High school parent nights are a great place for me to reach out. These events are usually organized by the school’s driver education department or a local commercial driving school. Most parent nights mandate attendance by at least one parent or guardian. A parent has to be present to sign off and authorize the child/student to receive a learner’s permit.
My role is to speak and provide educational materials to help parents be better driving role models. The main point: research shows parent distracted driving habits and behaviors do transfer to their children, putting them at a much higher risk for collisions and crashes when they start driving alone.
When I first started speaking at parent nights over 5 years ago, there were many younger children in the audience, too. Having pre-driving age children present turned out to be a bonus for me. I got to see first-hand how much knowledge and understanding these younger children have about their parents distracted driving. Over the last 5 years, I have collected thousands of evaluations from 7 to 13 year old children about distracted driving. It is obvious from the data— pre-driving age children are nervous around distracted driving and are very open to helping parents change their distracted driving habits.
Over the last 3 years I have developed a Mobility Curriculum for grade 4 thru 8 children. The curriculum can be taught by any teacher—I provide a DVD (no cost) to go along with it. Too many grade 4 thru 8 students are becoming victims of distracted drivers these days, not only as as passengers in vehicles, but as pedestrians, cyclists, and skate boarders, too. The mission: provide knowledge and information to help keep children safer, now and in the future.
School day schedules are packed. I tested the curriculum in central Illinois and was given 12 - 15 minutes, once a week, in a general study/enrichment class. The curriculum is time flexible but I suggest no less than 10 to 12 minutes a week and it can easily be expanded if time permits.
The first lessons clearly define the many types of “distracted driving” the students are exposed to.
We then explain eye scanning, situational awareness, blind spot recognition and other basics. These skills are vital in helping children protect themselves more effectively against distracted drivers when they are out and about. Students easily understand these concepts and there is a bonus—they are exactly the same life-saving skills children will need when they start driving on their own.
The curriculum then addresses how to recognize distracted driving habits and behaviors in detail. Students are taught it is ok to ask a distracted driver to stop the distraction whenever they are the passenger. A driver always has your life in their hands. Of course, the first place 95 percent of the students see distracted driving is in their own parents driving. The curriculum also covers how to be a “helper”—rather than arguing with or distracting a driver in any way, and much more.
The data I’ve collected shows that most students eager to speak to parents about their distracted driving. During initial testing, I received some unfortunate feedback from many students. Parents were tellind kids saying it was okay for them to drive distracted—because they have many years of driving experience, they reasoned, they were not being dangerous.
From this feedback I came up with "The Bridge,” a response for children to use when they hear this faulty logic from parents. Here it is: “We learned something in school today. The more distracted driving I see as I grow up, the more dangerous and vulnerable I will be when I start to drive on my own. I will learn more about driving from you (my parent) than anyone else. Please stop driving distracted with me in the car.” I find this works well for grade 4 thru 8 students— they readily understand “The Bridge”—but it is a little harder for younger children.
The schools have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from parents about the mobility curriculum. My long term follow up with parents over the last 5 years shows many of them changed their driving habits and continue to drive distraction free with children in their vehicle for years, backed up by confirmation by many students. If we’re going to keep our younger drivers safe on the road, we need to start earlier than the permit phase.
If you want to learn more about the program, my mobility curriculum and teaching DVD’s can be downloaded/ordered at www.tsef.org.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back next month with another post. Until next time…