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I have a good friend who, in my opinion, uses his cell phone too much while we are hanging out. When we do things like go to dinner together as a group, he is often not paying attention, engrossed in his phone. During many conversations, sometimes concerning personal issues in which I value his opinion, he is continually looking at his phone (answering text messages, using Facebook, Instagram, etc). When he does finally put it down to respond to whatever I've been saying, he often veers from the subject because he wasn't really paying attention.

Worse, he often drives and texts (or uses Instagram, or looks for music on Spotify). Things got tense the other day when he was driving and nearly ran a red light because he was not looking. I was already nervous from his lane drifting, and out of fear I yelled out something (not vulgar or offensive at all, but not particularly polite) to get him to put his phone down and pay attention. Now he is sort of upset with me for "having attitude" with him—but I am not going to apologize for simply having a fear-based reaction to a legitimately dangerous situation, regardless of how abruptly my request was made.

Another friend and I have brought up our concern with him, and his response is generally that "it's not that bad" and he claims he just has a better-than-normal ability to multitask (i.e. pay attention to what we are saying while simultaneously interacting with his phone). I know this is not the case because when I actually am paying attention, I notice his responses are not always exactly on topic.

As for the driving, I don't feel I can require that he not text and drive (despite it being illegal where I live) because he is an adult and can do what he wants. But given that there is already tension around this subject, I feel that always insisting that I drive when we go somewhere is going to come across as passive-aggressive.

It is a relatively new phenomenon in our 10-year friendship. I don't want to lose him as a friend but he is starting to be a drag to hang around with.

How can I communicate to him (while not "having attitude") that his behavior is putting a strain our friendship, especially when I've already seen that he doesn't view it as being a problem?

He lives far enough away that car travel is necessary to hang out. And we like to go on road trips together. How do I manage my safety in the car with him when it is not always practical for me to drive everywhere?

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You're right and you're wrong about your assumptions. You certainly cannot force him to not text and drive, as he is an adult. However, he is endangering your safety and if that bothers you then you should speak up.

Your other friends seem okay with that. And that's fine for them, but don't count on their support. In fact, when you speak to your texting friend, make sure your friends aren't there to back him up.

First and foremost:

1. Refuse to be in a car with him unless he doesn't text and drive

We all have our risk tolerances, but we must respect our differences in that regard. Your friend has no right to make you feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Be firm, but not rude. This is all you have to say:

Either I drive, or you stay off your phone while driving, or I don't wish to come with you guys. Sorry.

If your friend chooses his phone over your friendship, that's quite a problem.

Your safety is more important than any interpersonal skills.

Note: If this issue is a little less serious, and you don't mind dragging it out longer to possibly reach a more amicable solution, you can try to convince your friend to stop his habit, at least around you, which leads me to...

2. Talk to your friend, privately

You've already tried saying something while he does it. He knows you don't like it and he's made his decision.

Your only choice to convince him is a private conversation.

This conversation is going to be highly contextual, so I cannot give you many things to say. However, you must make it about your safety/comfort, not about his ability.

He may be the best driver in the world, perhaps with an incredible multi-tasking ability. Perhaps he has 2 brains and 4 working arms. Well, chances are he's like the rest of us, and is statistically unable to text and drive without risking at least a moderate amount of safety.

Regardless, you need to make him understand that the consequence of his action is that your experience is damaged. And you need him to tell you whether or not he cares about that.

If he doesn't... see option 1.


PS: Leave out any details about his phone usage outside of driving. That issue is a separate (but probably related) issue. However, you need to tackle one at a time. Trying to mix the details will weaken your position and point, and decrease your chances of solving either conflict.

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