Texting at the wheel

Yesterday I passed a young driver glancing back and forth, between the phone she held below her steering wheel and the intersection around her.

This terrifies me when I see it, for many reasons, not the least of which is that as often as I drive a car, I ride a bicycle.  And the damage a distracted driver can do to a bicycle and its rider is much quicker and greater than the damage she or he can do to another vehicle and its driver.

I imagined two different kinds of things I might say to her (as her parent or as anyone else in her life) about texting behind the wheel.

#1: No texting while you’re driving.  That is so dangerous and in some places it’s against the law.  If I find out you’ve been using your phone while you’re driving, I’ll take it away.

#2: I saw someone typing on her phone while driving today.  Wow, that really frightens me.  I know that kids and teenagers are better with devices than I am, and I know people use their phones behind the wheel all the time and often there’s no problem, but when I think about how easy it would be to get distracted, even for just a second, and swerve, just slightly, into the bike lane…

I’m wondering if you’d be willing to consider pulling over before you answer a call, or send or read a text.  I know it might slow you down, but if I knew that was your plan, I’d be able to worry a whole lot less when you’re driving.

The first is a decree, from authority to subject.  And sometimes decrees work.  Other times they inspire resistance, resentment, rebellion, or all three. Undermining the intention of the communication (to keep the child and others safe).

The second is a request, from person to person.  Specific person to specific person (including in this case the specific concern about the bike lane). In the context of person to person, there tend to be fewer resistance triggers and more opportunities for the recognition of genuine concern and connection. These factors can increase the chances that the content of a communication will get through.

No guarantees, either way, but the two approaches are fundamentally different.  And it’s worth remembering that we get to choose how we talk to each other.  We get to decide which kinds of communications are in keeping with how we want to be and what we think might actually inspire connection and collaboration with the people we care about the very most.