“You don’t have to drive like your parents”

“You don’t have to drive like your parents” – that is what I said to Shady Side Academy High School students in Pittsburgh as I was ending my talk with them on Wednesday.  I said that because I had spoken with their parents the evening before,  and leaned that they drove distracted on a regular basis.

Like most parents, Shady Side parents were concerned about keeping their teens safe behind the wheel. Unfortunately, also like most parents, they admitted that they had driven distracted repeatedly with their children in the car. I can relate. Before Casey died I also drove distracted and often with those I loved most in the world as my passengers. Knowing that teens whose parents drive distracted are 2 to 4 times likely to also drive distracted, I created a PSA directed at parents which was shown at the parent presentation:

The parents were really a great audience and we had a number of frank conversations. They were genuinely interested in doing what was best for their children and committed to making changes in the way they drive to be better role models for their children. One of the fathers came at the request of his 6 year old daughter. He reported back to her about the talk and after doing so he sent me the following in an e-mail:

 So, I talked to my daughter this am at breakfast and told her that I went to this lecture last night and that from now on she will never see me text and drive and will never see a cell phone exposed in my car as my commitment to safe driving. My 6 year old answered,  “O, yeah Daddy, I am going to believe that!?” 

Jason Matzus, Esq., talking to the students
Jason Matzus, Esq., talking to the students

This father is very lucky to have a daughter who cares about him so much and who will also keep a close eye on him to make sure he stays on track with his commitment for safe driving. A number of the high school students who I spoke with told me that their parents had come home from the adult presentation and had committed to driving safer. I am very optimistic that the seeds have been planted for teens and parents to work together on safe driving plans for the entire family. The students were very interactive and engaged.

I was joined in the presentation by Michelle Johnson, whose son Connor was killed in the Pittsburgh area in 2011 (Connor Johnson Foundation), as well as by Jason Matzus, incoming President of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice (PAJ). We worked on helping students develop specific strategies to use when driven by distracted drivers. Instead of viewing speaking up as criticism of the driver, we discussed viewing it as necessary for their safety and demonstrating that they care about the safety of their driver also. “Friends don’t let friends drive distracted.”

Connor Johnson, who was killed in 2011
Connor Johnson, who was killed in 2011

I was impressed with the staff at Shady Side, how deeply committed they were to bringing the program to teens and parents in an effort to keep their community safe. They were great hosts and I hope to be able to return in the future.

Related Links:

Shady Side Academy’s article

All photos from the Shady Side Presentation

University of Michigan Study – 90% of Parents Drive Distracted With Children in the Car

Resources for Parents: From Reid’s Dad – A Blog For Parents of Teen Drivers (includes link to book for purchase, Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving)

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, Teen Driver Source