BOSTON — Molly Burns has some precious 2-month-old cargo that keeps her from using her phone while driving.
But she worries other moms like her aren't being so disciplined.
"What could be so important that you could risk a crash for?" Burns said. "I feel like [younger parents] grew up with phones, so people are more glued to them."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States is accidents, the majority of which are car accidents.
Drivers under the age of 20 have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2017, 9% of all teen motor vehicle crash deaths involved distracted driving.
Dr. Regan Bergmark is both a sinus surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a member of the hospital's center for surgery and public health. She sees distracted driving as a public health crisis.
"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimates about nine people are dying a day from distracted driving-related crashes," she said. "So we created a validated questionnaire where we could ask people what kinds of things they do on their phone -- reading texts, writing texts, using maps, social media."
Dr. Bergmark and her colleagues surveyed 435 parents including parents in the Boston area.
They found: 52 percent admitted they can’t safely text and drive; 54 percent admitted to texting while driving; 67 percent admitted to reading texts while driving.
While Millennial parents were more likely to read texts while driving, both Millennial parents and older parents like Generation X parents are just as likely to text and drive and to get in crashes as a result.
"No matter how safe people want to be as drivers, we're not doing as good of a job as we think we are," Dr. Bergmark said. "It's going to be harder, in some ways, to deal with than something even as difficult as drunk driving. Just because as a responsible adult, you're supposed to be always reachable. You're supposed to be checking your message and responsive."
She realizes it's a tough habit for parents to break because of the demands placed on them.
"At the same time, when you're a driver, you have to have all of your attention on the road and those things are in conflict," she said. "I think that's one of the reasons people know it's dangerous and yet they still do it."
She sees pediatricians and schools as possible allies in educating parents about the risks. She says as the next generation becomes teenaged and adult drivers, it's going to be difficult for them to take it seriously as a public health risk when they see the adults in their lives doing it.
"MOST people are texting and driving," Dr. Bergmark said emphatically. "So it's a broader public health risk than just teenagers."
For Molly burns, police could be a solution.
"More tickets," she said matter-of-factly. "Pull more people over."
There is a setting on iPhones under "do not disturb" that will silence text messages, so only come in through a hands-free device. Bergmark and her colleagues hope more people will take advantage of that feature.
"I also think there has to be just a little bit of a culture shift about how reachable people are and that's an issue that extends beyond just distracted driving," she said.