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I Have a Confession to Make

No one knows this about me. No one in my family, none of my friends, not even my husband. No one knows that I had an accident in a vehicle related to texting.

Because I have always been committed to not texting and driving – to the point of being obnoxious about it, just ask my family! – I have never come clean about what happened that day. But here goes.

I was running late for a lunch date with a friend when I heard a text alert from my phone. When the ding sounded, I immediately reached for my purse (which was on the floor in front of the passenger seat) to grab my phone and check it. Vertically challenged as I am, when I stretched out to get my purse, my foot slipped off the brake pedal and my car lurched into the car in front of me.

I’m a big believer in learning from mistakes. When I became a parent, I made sure my kids knew about many of my indiscretions to help them make better choices in their own lives. But this one was different. I didn’t share all the details of my accident because I was mortified. My oldest had recently gotten her license. Together, we had driven many hours and along the way, both of us learned a lot about driving safely. I had pledged to my family that I would never text while driving. To be honest, I wasn’t a big texter then, but I had already developed a solid phone-scrolling addiction. It became clear to me that I needed to take my pledge further. After my accident (which caused $500 worth of damage to my car and no damage to the other vehicle), I made another vow: to silence my phone and to never even touch it while I was behind the wheel. 

My plan to overcome my phone dependency bordered on the sanctimonious, I admit it. I was still doing a lot of kid-shuttling then, so I made use of the drive-time like this: While the women-children were in the car, I often called out other people for using their phones while they were driving. Sometimes, I threw Mom shade at drivers who were checking their phones or texting while they were stopped in traffic or waiting at a light in the lane next to me.

I remember the time I carefully counted the number of adults using their phones as they traveled through an intersection (six out of eight if you’re curious) while one of my daughters and I were stopped at a light.

“I’m amazed by how many adults text and drive,” I said. 

“Mom, if you’re always looking for people to judge about texting and driving, that’s not very safe either, is it?” My women-children are very smart.

All these years later, according to Drive Smart Virginia and research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, distracted driving is on the rise. In a recent survey, 38 percent of drivers said they had read emails or texts while driving in the past month, and a third of respondents said they had sent emails or texts while driving.

There are many causes for car crashes and most of them are preventable. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, distractions – like talking to passengers, adjusting the radio or GPS, talking or texting on phones, taking pictures, scrolling or reading the phone, or reaching for an object (like my phone!) – are attributed to 80 percent of all crashes and 65 percent of all near-crashes in the past year.

And this, despite the fact that in Virginia, texting while driving is illegal and a primary offense. A conviction carries a $125 fine for the first offense and a $250 fine the second time around. In the City of Richmond, holding and using a cellphone while driving is now illegal. Back in December, Richmond City Council voted unanimously to pass the ban on driving while using a hand-held communications device in the city.

Bottom line: All of this means there is never a good reason to pick up a phone while you’re driving, especially when your kids are in the car and watching your every move for guidance on what’s acceptable when they are drivers one day. Of course, many kids
are passengers in other adults’ cars and those drivers might text and drive.

Which means families have to talk about the dangers of distracted driving, even if you have safe driving habits. It’s proven that parents can be the greatest influence on their children’s decision to avoid risky behaviors. Kids whose parents don’t text and drive and who talk to them about its dangers are less likely to text and drive.  

For me, a pretty insignificant accident years ago changed my attitude forever. To this day, I know that making the blanket decision to never touch my phone while I’m driving has made me a better driver, saved me a ton of money, and perhaps even saved lives. 

As a parent, I will do everything in my power to help my daughters make smart decisions about public safety. If that includes mercilessly judging people I don’t know for texting while driving, so be it. And I’m also telling my family now – right here! – how sorry I am that
I didn’t give them the whole story about my accident the day it happened.  

Remember, every time you drive with your kids this summer, you are modeling acceptable behavior. It’s important to talk to your kids about not texting and driving and show them that your phone doesn’t control you. That’s even more powerful.


Pledge to be a safe driver and promote safe driving in your family when you take the pledge:

Driver Pledge

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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