Parents Universal Resource Experts (Sue Scheff) Cell Phones and Driving

By Connect with Kids


“Driving while talking on the cell phone approaches the same disability in terms of driving as driving while intoxicated does.”

– Dr. Cathy Blusiewicz, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Several studies have shown that it’s dangerous to talk on a cell phone while driving.  But is the solution, as some states have mandated, hands-free cell phones? Maybe not. New research suggests that even with both hands on the wheel, drivers on cell phones are a lot like drunk drivers.

Right after school, Patrick Ferrell gets in his car and gets on the phone.

“I talk on my cell phone all the time when I’m driving, but I don’t consider it a big deal because you just have to watch the road,” says Patrick, 18.

But according to experts, the brain can’t focus on two things at the same time. A study by Carnegie Mellon University reports that just talking on the phone reduces activity in the part of the brain responsible for driving by 37 percent.

“Driving while talking on the cell phone approaches the same disability in terms of driving as driving while intoxicated does,” says Dr. Cathy Blusiewicz, Ph.D., clinical psychologist.

And, she says, the effect is even worse for teenagers.

“Driving is a learned skill, and we become much more automatically proficient at it with the number of years we’ve had driving.  And so … adolescents who are brand new drivers — they don’ t have the learned skill, plus they are only giving 50 percent attention to it (at most) if they are on the phone,” says Blusiewicz.

“Yeah … if my friend’s telling me an exciting story, I’ll get really, really excited, and if someone pulls out in front of me I’ll … slam on the brakes or whatever. I’ll be paying more attention to my friends than to the road,” says Kendra Rasmussen, 18.

Experts say parents need to set an example; just as kids need endless reminders to wear a seatbelt, they need to hear over and over again: driving and cell phones don’t mix.

“So that’s a hill to climb for parents and educators, to convince them that even though you feel invincible this is like having four beers before you get behind the wheel,” says Blusiewicz.

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 recent 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 an 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 policies.
  • Agree on 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 the ground rules you set. No compliance, no phone.


  • Washington Post
  • Liberty Mutual
  • SADD
  • Road and Travel
  • Wired News
  • National Institute on Media and the Family