Memorial Day may have marked the unofficial start of summer, but it also kicked off the 100 deadliest days for teen drivers.
From graduation parties and holidays to summer jobs, many teenagers spend more time on the road between Memorial Day and Labor Day than any other time of the year. Given that texting is the communication mode du jour for high schoolers, that extra time on the road often translates into more texting while driving.
[Learn why cell phones will never be banned in cars.]
While nearly every teen knows it's dangerous, 43 percent admit to texting from the road anyway, and 75 percent say their friends text and drive, according to an online survey of 1,200 teenagers ages 15 to 19, which was commissioned by AT&T.
Peer pressure is a key contributor to the prevalence of this hazardous behavior, says Andrea Brands, director of consumer safety and education for AT&T.
"The fact [is] that most teens expected to receive a response [to their texts] within five minutes … That's one of the reasons why they really feel like they need to be texting all the time," Brands says. "That to me is a big reason why they're doing it, even though almost all of them—97 percent—said this is a bad practice."
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Parents can rein in the peer pressure by installing a mobile app on their teen's cell phone that helps curb texting and driving.
While many cell phone carriers have yet to develop a "driving mode" for their phones, providers such as T-Mobile and AT&T have taken a stab at it.
T-Mobile's DriveSmart Plus app ($4.99/month) uses GPS to detect when the user is driving, automatically sending all incoming calls to voicemail and holding text messages. If their teen overrides the app, parents receive an alert.
AT&T's DriveMode is a free app that, when enabled, sends an automatic response to any incoming texts, telling the sender that the user is driving. Both DriveMode and DriveSmart are only available on certain phones, and are only available to the carrier's subscribers.
Apps created by independent developers, such as Drive Safe.ly by iSpeech, are more widely available. Drive Safe.ly reads incoming texts aloud and allows drivers to respond via voice-to-text software when activated, helping teen drivers keep their eyes on the road and off their phones, without ignoring anyone.
Another way parents can attempt to quash texting behind the wheel is by practicing what they preach, Brands says.
"Not just their parents, but adults in general are telling them not to text and drive, but then they're getting on their BlackBerrys and doing it themselves," she says.
In fact, 77 percent of the teens whom AT&T surveyed say the same adults telling them not to text and drive do it "all the time," according to the survey.
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"Parents need to be good role models," Brands says. "A lot of them are employing the 'Don't do what I do; do what I say' model, which really does not work well with the teen population."
Setting a good example also means not texting your teen when you know they're on the road.
"We hear from teens a lot, 'You know, my parents know that I'm driving.' [Parents] also need to be aware and cognizant that there are probably better times ... to text your teen," Brands says.
Keeping tabs of when your child is in transit can be difficult, so Brands suggests telling your teen ahead of time that it's okay not to respond to your text until they are off the road.
Parents who want to teach their teens just how dangerous texting and driving is— and maybe drive the point home for themselves as well—can watch It Can Wait, a documentary from AT&T showing the fatal consequences of texting behind the wheel.
"I sent one stupid, meaningless text—'Lol,'" says one teen in the film, "And it killed a man."
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