Guest Author Bio: David Moss has been obsessed with cars since he was little. When he realized he could combine his love of writing with his passion for cars, his fate was sealed. When he is not writing about anything automotive, he spends his time hiking. You can reach him at @davidcmoss
Nearly one in five crashes involves a distracted driver, and those drivers are often teens. Distracted driving occurs when the person behind the wheel of the motor vehicle is engaged in another activity while operating that vehicle; the most common cause of distracted driving is the use of a cell phone or another electronic device.
There are three main types of distractions while driving. If you are looking at something other than the road, like a GPS device, that is a visual distraction. A manual distraction is physically doing something other than keeping your hands on the wheel, such as eating in the car. Being preoccupied with work-related issues, causing your mind to drift away from your immediate activity, is a cognitive distraction. Some activities can involve multiple forms of distraction, such as texting while driving, because your mind, eyes and hands are all engaged in actions unrelated to driving.
Teens are some of the greatest offenders of distracted driving. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine study has found that when teen drivers text and drive, their risk for crashing into another vehicle or object is four times the baseline. Furthermore, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, six out of ten moderate to severe collisions involving teenagers were caused by distracted driving. All of them could have been prevented. If you teach your teens about avoiding distracted driving, they will be much safer on the road.
1. Talk with your teen about the dangers of distracted driving.
Even with the stakes of your child’s life, many parents still avoid a discussion with their teenagers about distracted driving. This conversation should not be a one-time lecture; in fact, teens need to be reminded about distracted driving repeatedly to help reinforce safety behind the wheel. Many teen drivers understand that texting while driving, for example, is unsafe, but oftentimes their desires to be constantly connected with their friends outweigh those thoughts.
Remind your child that texting and driving is illegal in almost every state for a reason. Try having your child close his or her eyes for 23 seconds, counting the time out loud. Those 23 seconds are the average amount of time that writing a text message requires a driver’s eyes to be off the road. Think about all the damage that could occur in those 23 seconds, and remind your teens that no text, video, Tweet or Snapchat is worth the danger.
2. Teach your teen to disable his or her phone before starting to drive.
Teach your teen that the best choice to avoid a distracted driving-caused collision is to disable or silence the phone and place it in the glove compartment or backseat where it is out of reach and out of mind. If your teen must use the phone while on the road, he or she should safely exit the roadway and stop in a secure location to make the phone call or answer the text. This is the only safe use of a cell phone while driving.
Some people try to make the case for hands-free devices while they are on the road, but this equipment only provides an illusion of safety. While they are not holding a cell phone or looking at the screen while they are driving, the hands-free Bluetooth devices still require more concentration to listen and respond than it takes to converse with a passenger in the same car. This cognitive distraction can cause your teen to become blind to road hazards and to crash his or her vehicle.
You need to explain to your teen that allowing a call to go to a voicemail message, or letting a text remain unread, is not the end of the world. In fact, you could even have your teenager change his or her voicemail to let callers know that he or she cannot answer the phone because it is not safe to talk while driving if your teen is worried about ignoring calls.
3. Enlist the help of safety applications and technology.
If your teen is not cooperating with these recommendations, or if you are still worried about cell phone use while driving, a few technology applications can be enlisted for further safety.
There is a device that turns off a driver’s phone while the vehicle is in operation. This safety application cannot be circumvented or overridden, making it impossible for your teen to use his or her cell phone while driving.
Other apps placed on cell phones can prohibit your teen from using it while driving, preventing distractions, but still allow certain numbers to be called, such as your number or 911 for emergencies.
Although your teen may find these types of safety applications too restrictive, they are good ways to prevent your teen from distracted driving and a potentially fatal collision.
4. Limit the number of passengers in the car with your teen.
In addition to cell phone use, there are other dangerous forms of distracted driving that can be reduced. For example, teens driving while there are loud conversations in the vehicle are six times more likely to have a serious crash than those driving alone.
Because of this statistic, some states have created a form of legislation that restricts the number of passengers in a teen’s car for his or her first licensed year. Since these laws have been enacted, AAA has found that fatalities among 16-year-old drivers have been reduced by 38 percent and injuries by 40 percent.
Make sure that your teen is aware that cell phones are not the only distractions; horseplay and loud conversations can be just as dangerous to a young driver.
5. Teach your teen to take care of eating and grooming before getting in the car.
Teens are often hungry, and teens are often running late. These two generalizations lead to two other causes of distracted driving, eating behind the wheel and personal grooming while driving.
Your teen should not be eating or drinking at all while driving. He or she will be thinking about the food, removing hands from the steering wheel and leaving a mess in the car.
Similarly, your teen should not be applying make-up, shaving or completing any other personal grooming activity that will prevent keeping his or her eyes and focus on the road. If he or she cannot devote his or her full attention to the road, the activity is a distraction.
6. Be a positive role model for your teen.
Of course, distracted driving is not just a problem for teens; adults are equally at risk and guilty of driing while doing or thinking about other things.
If you want your teens to be more careful while on the road, you must practice the safe driving habits you are preaching to them. Teens report that 91 percent of them have seen their own parents talking on a cell phone while driving, and another 59 percent have caught their parents texting while behind the wheel. How can you expect your teen driver to follow the rules if you cannot do it yourself? Likewise, if you know that your teen is on the road, avoid calling or texting him or her.
Distracted driving by teens is a very serious danger and threat. If you talk to your teen, demonstrate the correct behavior and monitor possible distractions, you can help your teen avoid a potentially devastating collision and save his or her life.