Reducing summer-time risks for your teen driver

Schools are beginning summer vacations all across America, which means teenage drives spending more time on the road. Teen drivers average approximately 44 percent more hours behind the wheel per week during summer vacation than during the school year, according to Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). And according to a joint study by Liberty Mutual and SADD, more teens die in car crashes during the summer months (June through September) than any other time of the year.

To help avoid the unthinkable, take the time to discuss safe driving behavior with your teen, including the importance of refraining from phone use while driving. Here are some examples of tips you can provide:

  • Before the summer season gets into full swing, check the vehicle’s mechanical condition. Be sure to check tires, steering, suspension, battery, brakes and the cooling, lighting and exhaust systems. Develop at least a vague understanding of the various vehicle systems, so you can recognize when something isn't right with the car.
  • Before you even start the car, make sure everything’s in place and ready to go, including accessories (sunglasses, hats), radio, GPS, head rests, mirrors and seats.
  • Drinking and driving is not only illegal, it is deadly and causes tragedies across America every single day. If you drink, don’t drive. Find another way to get where you need to go.
  • Distracted driving is not illegal in all states, but it is deadly in every state. Silence the phone and place it out of reach.

The Canary App for iPhone and Android can help stimulate safe driving conversations with teens. The app’s reports include cellphone use while driving, speeding and other driving behavior. Much like a report card from school, Canary’s driving reports can help bring your teen's driving from average to A+ this summer.

Have a great summer!

Don’t count on a pledge!

If your teen has taken a pledge, does that mean you can check the potential harm or unwanted behavior off your list?

Research on the effectiveness of pledges suggests that you cannot—and more importantly—should not. Analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge." Similarly, researchers of cyber bullying pledges commented, “Pledges lose their meaning if everyone is doing it because it ceases to be non-normative.”

A pledge can be the beginning – but not the beginning and the end – to a behavior change. As I read more articles from experts on how to make popular virginity and bullying pledges effective, I quickly discovered that the same proactive approaches must accompany distracted driving pledges in order for them to work.

One key to getting pledges to work, according to experts, is illumination. Parents must keep a dialogue open and provide incentives, reminders and reinforcement. Not much will be achieved by simply asking your teen, “Did you text and drive today.” You’ll likely get eyes that roll and “Jeez, Mom!” A similar response might come from asking your virginity-pledge taking teen, “Did you have sex with anyone today?”

Studies have shown that the most effective way to reach teens is with a combined approach of education and reflection. I contacted Stan Davis, who has done extensive research on pledges, and told him about Canary, our app that tracks exactly when and how your teen uses a smartphone on the road. “I think there is promise in having the individual make an estimate and then having data to confirm or deny their own estimate,” he said, adding that it could have the same positive impact that journaling about food intake can have on diet and nutrition.

Borrowing from the ideas Davis and other experts suggest to help change teens behavior, and applying them to distracted driving, I offer the following tips. But wait, before reading these tips – and this is by far the most critical piece of all – you, as a parent, must be willing to do the same. If you are setting a poor example by driving distracted, this will never work. Pot, meet kettle! For those parents that care enough to lead by example and save lives, read on:

Predict: As Davis offered up, teens (and I say this goes for parents too) should estimate how often they currently use their phones while driving. Some experts say that this will be most effective if the teen does not turn in the estimate to the parent. It is important to write the prediction down.

Commit: Commit to improving your current trend by some percentage. Set weekly achievable goals, even if they’re baby steps.

Encourage: Help teens see their potential to be among the safest drivers and part of the solution to a huge problem. Let’s face it, we are counting on this generation!

Reflect: Talk about the day’s distracted driving news (reports on accidents, status of states’ distracted driving laws, new statistics, etc.). Point out all the distracted drivers on the roads. Honor anything your teens do to help prevent others from driving distracted (offering to be a “designated texter,” etc.).

Track/Measure: Use an app like Canary to track exactly when you and your teens use smartphones while driving. Review these “report cards” each week and keep a conversation going about how you are both doing.

Reward: Develop a reward system for excellent driving. It could be a respite from chores, a shopping trip, a movie or tickets to a game. Be willing to invest in this. It will be worth every penny.

Information can be sobering. Measuring performance improves performance.

With the right tools and a proactive approach, parents can be at the forefront of the battle against teen distracted driving.

It all comes down to how proactive and accountable you are willing to be and how much you care.

Parents failing big time, creating new distracted drivers. Please, care enough to stop!

Distracted driving, especially cellphone use while driving, will continue to kill innocent victims until parents start setting better examples for their children — both those who are already driving and future drivers. But unfortunately, a new study shows that parents are failing miserably.

Today, researchers from the University of Michigan presented to a pediatric health seminar new findings. Their research showed that almost 90 percent of drivers engage in at least one technology-based distraction while driving their children. And they do this, according to the study, at least once a month.

From what I’m seeing and what teens tell me, many parents are driving distracted with children in the car much more than once a month.

Very few parents are choosing to consistently turn off or ignore their cellphones and other electronic devices while they’re driving – even though their distracted driving could kill their own children!

Frankly, I’m flabbergasted. Looking at your cellphone while you’re driving is like driving with your eyes closed. You might as well let your kids play on a busy highway!

People who drive while distracted can kill themselves, their passengers and others on the roads (or even sidewalks). But parents are also contributing to future deaths. By programming their children with the idea that it’s OK to drive distracted, they are raising children who will be cause future crashes and deaths when they drive. Should we be surprised when one of these offspring later takes the life of a pedestrian while attempting to drive and send a text at the same time?

This must stop. Now.

I understand that it’s difficult to ignore a phone when someone calls or sends a text message. I understand that parents are busy and that many think they need to use driving time to catch up on phone calls (or worse yet, text and email messages). But let’s face it. In that moment, with their children in the car, they are not valuing safety. Worse, they are not even valuing life.

Please, parents — your children and the people your children might later kill are worth ignoring your phone until you park the car. You are probably only 10 minutes away from stopping, anyway — to get snacks, or drop your child off at soccer practice, a music lesson, the orthodontist or a friend’s house. Wait until then to handle texts, calls and email.

It’s hard, but we have an app that can help. Put the Canary app on your iPhone or Android. It tracks exactly when a phone is used while on the road and creates detailed reports. Give an accountability partner access to your Canary reports. Ask that person to call you to task every time the Canary report shows that you were distracted by your phone while on the road. You’ll be surprised by at least two things: how often you drive distracted and how much easier it is to avoid the temptation when you know that your accountability partner is monitoring you.

Stop putting your children at risk of death, injury or becoming distracted drivers themselves. Children didn’t ask to come into this world. We brought them here and it’s our job to protect them and to teach by example.

It’s ridiculous! Things that have stronger penalties than distracted driving

It hit me when I drove past a sign I've driven by a zillion times: "Penalty for littering: $250." The fine for texting and driving in the same location: Zilch. Zero. Zip. Getting lawmakers to ban cell phone use in cars is like pushing rope. Despite the evidence of the dangers. Despite the path of havoc-wrecking devastation from distracted driving-related crashes. And despite passionate advocates who tirelessly drive awareness and try to convince lawmakers that we must care more about people and end distracted driving. Yet most states already have laws on the books that punish people for things that are, well, ridiculous. For example, In Missouri, it’s illegal to drive with an un-caged bear in your car. Florida law prohibits men from wearing strapless gowns. A Texas law establishes grants for “weather modification and control.”

Introducing the United States of Ridiculaws! This nation has a patchwork of distracted driving laws that vary from state to state. Some states ban all handheld cellphone use while others have no distracted driving laws whatsoever! Where there are bans, the fines are often as minimal as $50 (Pennsylvania, for example). Yet states have odd, crazy laws that prohibit activities that are certainly not life-threatening and that describe penalties that are much more severe than those associated with many distracted driving laws.

It all just makes us ask "Why?"

Why don't we care more about saving lives? If these silly laws passed, why are distracted driving laws that could save millions of lives not getting through? And what kind of deterrent to texting and driving is a $50 fine, anyway?

And so Canary's #ridiculaws were born! Check us out on Twitter where we'll post some crazy laws that make far less sense than banning distracted driving. Chime in and let us know of any #ridiculaws you know about.

And if you think it's ridiculous that these laws exist while your state doesn't have strong enough laws against distracted driving, join the conversation. And better yet, send a note to your state lawmakers! Ask them, "Why do we care more about this ridiculaw than saving lives?"

Spring breakers are hitting the roads seriously under the influence (of cell phone use). Canary can sober them up.

For spring break during my senior year in high school, I traveled with a group of girlfriends from Indiana to Ft. Meyers Beach, Florida. I still can't believe our parents allowed us to make that trek! Luckily, we were all pretty safe drivers. I remember wearing seatbelts (this preceded seatbelt laws) on the trip and we made it to the beach and back safely. Whew! Without cell phones in our cars, we were so much safer than our teens are today. Spring breakers will likely also be buckled up for protection. Hopefully they won't drink and drive. Still, their chances are higher than ever of being in a crash. Why? Because they will be driving seriously impaired.

And not just a little bit under the influence. Using phones while driving is as dangerous as driving drunk. Spring breakers who text while driving will ramp up their crash related risks by 23 times. Yet 98 percent of undergraduate college students admit to reading text messages while driving, even though they recognize the danger.

Let’s be accountable. We can be more accountable parents by using Canary to protect our teens. We can make our children accountable for safe driving while they are on the roads. The Canary app for iPhones and Android phones alerts parents right away when driving teens use their smartphones to text or talk. It also sends alerts when they exceed speed limits. Plus, the GPS-based app allows parents to find out where their teens are at any time.

Canary gives parents peace of mind during spring breaks, with real-time updates as their teens get from point A to point B safely. The app also gives parents information they can use to help teens change behaviors and to provide incentives for safer driving.

Fighting distracted driving is an around-the-clock battle, but it’s especially important during spring break highway mayhem. We just can’t rely on conversations with teens about distracted driving. We must be proactive. With Canary, we can transform habits from legally drunk-like distracted driving to being stone cold sober (no phone in hand) behind the wheel.

Canary drops price, makes it easier to help friends and families drive safer

Countless times a day, we make this decision while driving: Can that text, call, tweet or Facebook post wait? For many, the temptation to stay connected while on the road is too hard to resist, even though most everyone knows that devastating crashes can result. But there’s a way to change people’s habits: Show them just how often they are risking lives. It can be sobering. It can rewire people to value saving lives over using their phones. That’s exactly what our Canary distracted driving prevention app does. And because we want to make Canary more accessible to more people, we’ve dropped the app’s price.

Available for iPhone and Android, Canary now has a one-time fee of $9.95 (instead of a monthly subscription). For that new price, you get real-time alerts and reports on smartphone use to help you and up to 10 friends and family members drive safer — for as long as you need the app.

Our Canary subscribers tell us amazing success stories.

“I absolutely love Canary and all that it can do!” wrote Claudia Smiley, Canary subscriber and mother of a teen driver. “Its ability to notify me when my child is driving and texting and/or using the phone while driving is wonderful. The best part is that the app also sends warnings to my child’s phone. She knows that the same notifications come to my phone as well. I am seeing fewer and fewer infractions! Now, we often receive the wonderful, ‘Congratulations, this device has no infractions!’ message. This app can be an amazing tool in keeping our teens safe.”

Examples like Claudia’s strengthen our belief that it takes more than words or promises to change behaviors. A Canary report card can provide that necessary, behavior-changing incentive — before tragedy occurs.

With tools like Canary,  together we really can curb distracted driving. Will you join us?

Try It: Have a “Way Back Wednesday”

As I saw my family become more engaged with “screens” I made a suggestion. I’m nostalgic. I like mid-century everything: music, art, architecture, the boon of business and, yes, the quintessential family lives. So I suggested “Way Back Wednesdays” to my family — an opportunity to have a family evening reminiscent of times long gone. Think: “Leave it to Beaver.”

Barbara Billingsley as June Cleaver

When I threw this idea out there, my husband said, “Are you going to dress up, wear pearls and greet me at the door with a vintage cocktail?” :-) Hmmm … I don’t recall if June Cleaver was a mixologist! But, today is Wednesday and yes, I’m donning pearls.

So now, on Wednesday evenings, we try to have no screens. No video games. No texting or Facebooking. We are forced to find “connections” with the people present: those of us at the comfort-food adorned dinner table. We share experiences of the day while we eat, listen to big band music, play a game and then retire to the living room to read or watch an old flick. Okay, “screens” are allowed for the ebook users in the family or to watch a movie together.

You’ll be amazed and at how a “way back” day can recapture so much of what’s been lost in our society. It can help us create more dynamic, engaged families. It’s about togetherness. And I mean really together, without the distraction of family members texting or tweeting at the table or being otherwise glued to a virtual world. It’s also a great opportunity weave in some culture (bring up discussions about art, music, literature, etc.), lest we all become bots!

Happy Wednesday. Try having a “way back” evening tonight – and by all means, have a “way back” day every day when you are driving (sans phone use)!

NBC "Rock Center" Segment Fights Distracted Driving

NBC’s “Rock Center” did a great service to the nation last night by devoting 17 minutes of air time to the issue of distracted driving. You can see the segment here.

I was shocked when Kate Snow reported that many distracted drivers have received a “hand slap,” (as little as probation with no jail time) — even the drivers who killed people. It seems many states don’t yet have laws that enable prosecutors to charge people with felony crimes in such cases. Distracted driving activist Jennifer Smith told Snow every state should pass laws that make distracted driving as serious as drunken driving.

To support that assertion, Snow’s story included a sound bite from Kansas University Cognitive Psychology Professor Paul Atchley, who said, “Texting and driving is about six to eight times as bad as driving drunk.” Atchley has published several scientific articles about distracted driving. In a recent study, Atchley found that 97 percent of students admit to sometimes texting while driving, despite the risk. Atchley told Snow the students acknowledge that texting is one of the most dangerous things they could do while driving, but they do it anyway. He said we fool ourselves into thinking that texting and driving is safer than it really is. Has that ever happened to you?

After her piece, Snow mentioned that some apps can block smartphone use while in motion. Such apps can help but they’re not available for the iPhone. Canary, on the other hand, is an app for both iPhones and Android phones that logs smartphone use while driving and alerts others to the behavior (for example, parents of teen drivers, or friends of adults who will hold each other accountable). Changing behavior is the key and Canary really helps. Measure performance and performance will be improved. That will change behavior.

Thank you NBC and Kate Snow for the piece – it’s having a big impact on people. A look at the #textingdrivers conversation on Twitter indicates that it might even save some lives. We at The Canary Project congratulate NBC’s Rock Center for bringing this issue to their audience in such a compelling way.

Canary forms non-profit corporation to help fight distracted driving

We just issued a news release to announce that The Canary Project is forming a nonprofit corporation. The new organization will seek recognition by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt organization under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

As a nonprofit, The Canary Project will be better positioned to receive grants and funding for our mission. We’re excited to help support existing distracted driving campaigns and create new ones. Our society needs a new standard for preventing distracted driving, especially driving while texting or using smartphones in other ways. We believe we can change behavior via technology, tools and research and we’re eager to start collaborating with partners to find ways to eliminate distracted driving and save lives.

52apps, the Columbia-based developer of the Canary app, has committed revenues from the sale of the app to support The Canary Project. Other partners in The Canary Project include the South Carolina chapter of the National Safety Council and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.

We plan to continue creating awareness and education campaigns, as well as provide support to other nonprofit organizations that have similar missions, including the Remember Alex Brown Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit organization that educates people about the dangers of texting while driving, and the National Organization for Youth Safety.

Major update to Canary

We just updated the iPhone version of Canary. It improves a GPS-related function that might have affected your Canary experience. Android versions didn’t require an update. To update Canary: Open the App Store on every iPhone on which you installed Canary. Touch the “Updates” button in the bottom-right corner. Now, you can a) select “Update All” at the top right to update Canary and other apps on your phone; or b) tap “Canary – Teen Safety” and select “Update” on the next screen.

Check out all of Canary's features, including: • Get real-time alerts on your phone (and/or email messages) if your teen uses his/her phone on the road • Know exactly where your teen is at any time • Set up and monitor a curfew • Establish safe and restricted zones

If you uninstalled Canary: Simply reinstall it from the App Store and then log in with the same Canary account email address and password you previously created.

Having trouble? Just contact us. Have ideas or feedback for how to improve Canary? We'd love to hear from you.

Let’s work together to curb distracted driving, especially during this holiday season!

Be safe and happy holidays.

Curbing Distracted Driving. Protecting Families.

The problem of distracted driving isn’t new. But some of the distractions are. Never before have so many objects competed for our attention while on the road. The problem has grown from switching radio stations to using cell phones for talking, texting, navigating, tweeting and even surfing. Canary began with an app idea: one that can monitor all types of smartphone use while driving, immediately beacon that intel back (to parents, fleet managers, supervisors, etc.) and save lives. We realized we must start with teens. According to the CDC, motor vehicle accidents are the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. Of course teens carry their phones with them everywhere. They might as well be carrying loaded guns. A Pew Research Center report found that 40 percent of teens surveyed said they had been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.

It’s going to take more than a promise to change drivers’ insatiable desire to stay connected with the world outside of their cars. That’s the epiphany that came to us while piloting the new Canary app with organizations across the country who share a mission of ending distracted driving.

We heard from leaders that it’s going to take technology, tools, programs, insights and relentless dedication to collaboration. So, The Canary Project was born. We are pulling together passionate people, innovative developers, top-notch researchers and committed activists to fight together. To make a difference. To support programs that need new approaches and compelling ways to get the message ingrained in all drivers, everywhere, that distracted driving must end.

We are focused on societal change – to impart that ending distracted driving is everyone’s responsibility – especially the parents of teenage drivers. The Canary Project invites you to try our app for free to see how powerful technology can be to end dangerous driving behaviors. We hope you’ll check back here to see the latest news, research, projects and campaigns that will be part of our journey – one that will ultimately free the roads from distracted driving and save lives.