Back when the iPhone first launched, I called it (on “Today”) a horrid phone. My justification was that it was going to result in the death of a lot of our children. Having used screen and keyboard phones prior to the iPhone’s launch, I argued that it would increase the level of distraction for drivers and result in an increased number of deaths, particularly among young adult drivers, given that they typically have poor impulse control. This would be especially true, I argued, if other phone makers copied Apple, which I felt was likely.
But here’s the thing: I’ve been there myself. When the phone vibrates or shakes while you are driving, the tendency is to want to check what is going on and respond to it. If you do, you are (according to “Today” this morning) 43x more likely to have an accident. And even if you live, the chance of you being brain-damaged is rather high given the number of folks they had on the show that had been injured that way.
What if you killed your kid?
I’m thinking of the morning after a parent has been told that his or her child has died in an accident while texting, when the parent suddenly realizes that if he or she hadn’t bought the phone the kid wanted, the child would likely be alive. I can’t imagine the level of remorse and guilt that would go along with this, but it could easily be matched if the adult ran into another family killing a child while texting themselves.
You see, adults apparently have big problems with impulse control too. On that same “Today” show, they indicated that adults may actually mess with their phones while driving more than kids do.
Further, this could happen to you or someone you care about even if they aren’t doing the driving. As a passenger of someone who is texting while driving, as a driver in a car going the other way from someone who is texting while driving, or simply as a person walking in the wrong place at the wrong time, texting while driving puts you at risk.
Since the introduction of the iPhone, the roads have simply become far less safe, and that means you and the people you care about need to take extra care in order to make sure you don’t have that morning of regret, or for that matter, assure you have another morning at all.
What you can do
If you have a child with poor impulse control, make sure they get into the habit of turning their phone off—not merely to vibrate—while driving. If the phone is off, it is less likely to cause them to think about using it when they shouldn’t. If they are in a car where the driver starts to do this, they should ask to be let out of the car. Being a live walker is far better than being a dead passenger. It may seem like a lot to ask, but we ask folks to not smoke when we are in the car, and texting can cause a far more immediate deadly consequence.
Make sure you drive and walk heads up, and drill this into your children. So for you, rather than walking or driving around on autopilot or listening to your iPod, actually keep your eyes open for folks that are texting while walking, or while driving a car or bike. If you see the danger coming, there is a far greater likelihood you or your loved one might avoid it. I’ve seen a number of videos of folks texting while stepping right out into traffic, with painful consequences. I’ve also seen videos of folks who were paying attention and almost magically emerged unscathed after a nearby driver lost control of their car.
And if you catch your kid texting and driving, take both the phone and the car away from them. It is far better to have a pissed off child than a dead one. I’ve watched what happens when a family loses a child, and you wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy.
Smartphones are bad news for your personal safety, but if you aggressively work to eliminate the temptation to use them while doing something that could be dangerous, you can mitigate this risk. If you constantly remain aware of your surroundings, you’ll also likely see muggers, drunk drivers, and other folks that could ruin your day as well.
Smartphones are here; if you want to live and avoid the pain of burying a child, then make sure both you and your family recognizes and changes their behavior to mitigate their risk.
Rob Enderle is a principal analyst at the Enderle Group.