Most drivers, teenage and adult, have received the message loud and clear: Don’t text and drive.

Got it. But what about, say, just glancing down at a text or email on a straight stretch of highway? Scrolling through contacts to dial? How about replying – just a quick one – at a red light? Or how about changing the podcast?

And if those things are fine for you, how does it make you feel when your freshly minted driving teenager reaches for the phone? According to a new survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), 68 percent of teenage drivers admit to reading or replying to text messages while driving. Of those who say they “never” text and drive? Nearly half make an exception for texting at a stop sign or red light.

Teenagers, like older drivers, are getting the basic message: In the same survey, 96 percent of those who responded said that any use of a cellphone while driving was at least “slightly” distracting. But they’re not getting the whole story. Apparently, the real questions are “what do you mean by use” and “what’s too distracted?”

I am not a multitasker. I can have only the briefest and most to-the-point phone conversations while driving, even in my fancy Bluetooth-equipped button-on-the-steering-wheel-to-answer car. For anything more than “meet us in the parking lot in 10 minutes,” I pull over. I know I can’t text and drive. I can barely handle “Look! The snowplow has a reindeer nose!” (Think you’re better than me at driving while distracted? Try The New York Times’ interactive Gauging Your Distraction game.)

Grabbing the phone at a stoplight, though, is tempting, especially when I’m waiting for a reply to a text. Can’t I just read it? Type out a quick “OK”?


I can’t. No matter how I do it, the text or email itself has distracting properties. If I grab the phone at a light, even when I’m really vigilant about tossing the phone into the passenger seat the minute the light changes, part of my brain is still mid-word and mid-reply as I drive off into traffic. I’m driving in draft mode with one chunk of my brain trying to hold that thought. That may just be me; I’d be the first to admit that I’m easily distracted. But maybe your teenage driver will be, too.

That future driver in your back seat is my pitch for why you should leave your phone in your bag at red lights, too. They’re watching you twitchily grab that gadget at every interval in motion. Watching you obey the letter but not the spirit of the law.

As small as they may be now, those watchers are future teenagers who might easily think, “I’ll just look down for a minute,” or “I’ll just finish this word while I slowly start moving this car.” They’re people you really, really want to keep their eyes on the road, and they’re marking every time we look down to scroll through addresses and every time we swerve onto the rumble strip, just a little, phone in hand.

Some part of them is thinking, yeah, that’s the way you do this thing! That self-driving Google car isn’t going to come along before my 12-year-old has a chance to demonstrate what he’s learned from all those years of watching me behind the wheel. That’s one reason I spend my red light down time singing along with Sugarland or contemplating the news from Ukraine. The other three reasons are seat-belted right there with him.

I’m far from perfect. Although I’ve given up texting or scrolling contacts, my current temptation is my Stitcher app – I like to listen to podcasts on long drives (I favor “The Moth”), and I haven’t quite figured out how not to have to select another one to play.

If I have a child in the car, I make a point of pulling over.


My aim, truly, is not to touch the phone while I drive, because that’s the standard I’d like to set for them in a few years.

WITH 20 CASES of measles recently confirmed in New York City, now is a good time to check your children’s vaccination records, make up for any shots missed because of illness or travel and reconsider any stance your family might have taken on delaying or refusing vaccinations.

Writing for The New York Times, Anemona Hartocollis reports that of the 20 confirmed cases, nine were children. Of those, seven were too young to be vaccinated or within the window of 12 to 15 months old when the vaccination is recommended. The other two were from families in which the parents refused to allow the vaccination.

Measles is serious business. Even in healthy individuals, it can lead to ear infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, miscarriage, brain inflammation and even death.

It’s also extremely contagious, meaning that while a healthy individual might handle a case of measles with ease, she could pass it along unknowingly to infants, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems who may not fare so well.

Measles can be spread through airborne respiratory droplets even two hours after an infected person has left the room, and infected persons can be contagious before the rash appears.


“If a child is vaccinated there is no concern for transmission,” Dr. Johanna Goldfarb, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, said by email.

If an unvaccinated child is exposed – for example, in a pediatrician’s waiting room – the first recommendation would be to vaccinate the child. While each case should be evaluated as a unique situation, she said, “the incubation period of measles is 8 to 12 days, so the child would not be contagious prior to this time, with most children having symptoms by day 18 after exposure.”

That would create a complicated situation for the working parent of the exposed child in the absence of the vaccine.

There are plenty of reasons a child might have missed a dose of the vaccine. One child treated for measles had had one dose, but missed a second because of illness.

In our family, a school nurse caught an overlooked vaccine – we hadn’t chosen not to give it or to delay, but this child’s vaccination schedule had been complicated by circumstance, and we missed one.

Some families choose not to vaccinate or to delay vaccinations.


For those families, medical messages about vaccine safety and efficacy haven’t outweighed fears, but the appearance of documented measles in the community might, particularly if they are approached by preschools and pediatricians’ offices with information about the outbreak rather than questions about their decisions.

In its memo to child-care providers about the outbreak, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stated that “children who are not vaccinated should not be allowed to attend child care.”

This outbreak could serve as a reminder that we vaccinate our children, and ourselves, for our own protection and for the protection of our community.

A spokesperson for New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center said the hospital is notifying 600 people who might have been exposed there (in what it calls “probably an excess of caution”).

If the majority of those 600 people were not vaccinated, The Times could soon be running a very different article on its front page.

Fortunately, statistics suggest that most of those 600 people will have been vaccinated against measles, and 95 percent of them will be immune as a result.

That’s lucky for us all, including those who have made a different choice for their children.

Contact KJ Dell-Antonia at:

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