Sue Scheff: Cell Phones and Fatalities

celldriveSource: Connect with Kids

“Three days later I woke up out of a coma, just for my husband to tell me that Ryan wasn’t gonna make it.”

– Lisa Duffner, mother

Ryan Duffner’s second birthday was memorable for the Lisa and Rorry Duffner.  There were balloons, a cake and wishes for many more, but, unfortunately, it was Ryan’s last birthday. Two months later Ryan and Lisa, while on their daily walk, were hit by a car.  The driver was a sixteen-year-old who was dialing her cell phone.  The impact threw Ryan thirty feet and Lisa sixty feet. Lisa was knocked unconscious.

 “Three days later I woke up out of a coma, just for my husband to tell me that Ryan wasn’t going to make it,” Lisa says, while fighting back tears. 

Duffner was in such critical condition that doctors wouldn’t allow her to hold her son in the moments before his death. 

“Not to say goodbye to my own baby—that was hard,” she says.

A study by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis estimates that 6 percent of crashes are due to cell phones, resulting in 2,600 deaths and 12,000 serious injuries per year.

Seventeen-year-old Edgar admits that talking on the phone is often distracting.  “When I’m dialing a number or something like that, I’ve caught myself kind of drifting off,” he says.

Edgar uses the cell phone while driving, in spite of his mom’s strict rules. “She’s always freaking out telling me, ‘Don’t be using your cell phone while you’re driving. ‘” Pull over if you have to,’” he says.

Though Lisa Duffner thinks that cell phones are necessary, she doesn’t have much patience for people that can’t take the time to pull over and make the call. “My biggest thing is just to pull over to make your phone call.  Are you so self-important that you endanger everybody else’s lives?” she says.

Experts say that looking at a detailed phone bill is a way of checking up on kids’ phone usage. “You can look at that, and you can tell if they’re spending a lot of time on the phone coming from school to home. Then obviously they’re doing it,” says Captain Tommy Brown, Department of Public Safety.

But for teenagers, seeing the effects of what can happen, like the death of a two-year-old, may be the strongest tool for convincing them to hang up and drive.

Ryan’s absence reminds Duffner every day of the dangers of driving-while-distracted. “He was just that happy-go-lucky, jump-off-of-everything, friendly little kid.  He just loved life.”

Tips for Parents

It is very likely that your teenager will pick up the majority of his/her driving habits from watching you. According to a survey by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), nearly two-thirds of teenagers polled say their parents talk on the cell phone while driving, almost half say their parents speed, and just under one-third say their parents don’t wear seatbelts. The following statistics, therefore, shouldn’t be very surprising:

  • Sixty-two percent of high school drivers say they talk on a cell phone while driving, and approximately half of high school teens who do not yet drive (52 percent) and middle school students (47 percent) expect they will engage in this behavior when they begin driving.
  • Sixty-seven percent of high school drivers say they speed.
  • Thirty-three percent of high school drivers say they do not wear their seatbelt while driving.

Cell phones have been transformed from status symbols into everyday accessories. In fact, cell phones are so prevalent among teenagers that a recent study found that they viewed talking on the phone nearly the same as talking to someone face-to-face. And with the latest studies showing that at least 56 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, the issue of cell phone usage is more pertinent than ever.

If you believe your teen should have a cell phone, it is important to lay down a few ground rules. The National Institute on Media and the Family suggests the following guidelines for setting limits on your teen’s cell phone use:

  • Choose a plan that puts some reasonable limits on your teen’s phone time. Make sure he or she knows what the limits are so he or she can do some budgeting.
  • Let your teen know that the two of you will be reviewing the bill together so you will have some idea of how the phone is being used.
  • If use exceeds the plan limits, the charges can mount very quickly. Make sure your teen has some consequences, financial or otherwise, if limits are exceeded.
  • Teach your child about the dangers of using the cell phone while driving and the distractions it can cause.
  • Find out what the school’s policies are regarding cell phone use and let your teen know that you will completely support the school’s standards.
  • Agree on some cell phone etiquette. For example, no phone calling during meals or when it is bothersome or rude to other people.
  • Conversely, let your teen know that any “phone bullying” or cheating via text messaging will not be tolerated.
  • Let your teen know that his or her use of the cell phone is contingent on following the ground rules. No compliance, no phone.

References

  • Harvard Center for Risk Analysis
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Rutgers University
  • Students Against Destructive Decisions- SADD
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