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Distracted Teen Drivers: Lessons for Safety

These days its seems as though you cannot read the news without seeing the headline “Teens Perish in Fatal Car Accident.” The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that automobile accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths. In many cases, the driver was distracted and lacked the experience to deal with the situation. It is important as parents that you take the time to help your teenager understand the seriousness of staying attentive on the road and how to remain in control of their car. Here are some practical safety suggestions you can discuss with your teen.

What is a Distraction?

Explain to your teen that the primary role when behind the steering wheel is the safe operation of the vehicle. Anything that gets in the way of that task is considered a distraction. You can relate this to the teen trying to listen to a teacher at school while being distracted. Have them make a list of things that could be a distraction in the classroom. Many of the items will appear on a distracted driver’s list including:

  • Mobile phone use
  • Loud music
  • Conversation
  • Drowsiness

These are contributors to teen and adult auto accidents alike. Ask any car insurance company and they will have the data to prove it. A study released by NHTSA shows 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near-crashes involved some form of driver distraction. Drivers under the age of 20 represent the largest proportion of distracted drivers involved in fatal crashes. While the distractions remain the same at any age, adults have more experience in responding and recovering to a dangerous situation.

Reducing Teen Distractions

Work with your teen to set some limits that will help them practice safe driving habits. Try to present such limits as positive, proactive guidelines in order to encourage your teen to adhere to them. Talking about limits will not help if they are simply ignored once the teen steps into the car. When discussing safety precautions with your teen, stress the importance of limiting passengers and nighttime driving, and prohibiting all mobile phone use.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that just one additional person in the car with a teen increases their risk of an accident by 48 percent. This risk increases as the number of passengers rises. One recommendation is to restrict all passengers from the car when the teen is driving for 6 to 12 months. An alternative is to allow one passenger in the car after a few months of driving, as long as the teen only drives on residential roads and not on highways.

Driving at night requires a higher level of concentration for anyone, especially an inexperienced teen. Limit driving to before 10 p.m., and afterward only with adult supervision. Because of the demands placed on the driver at night, passengers should be completely restricted after dusk.

Quite possibly the driving distraction receiving the most regulatory attention these days is that of mobile phone use. According to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road for approximately 4.6 seconds. To put that time in a relational perspective, at 55 mph, it is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field while blindfolded. In the state of Maryland, all drivers are prohibited from handheld mobile phone use, while novice drivers with a learner’s permit or provisional license are prohibited from both handheld and hands-free mobile phone use. Breaking this law can result in fines ranging from $40 to $100. Advise your teen that mobile phone use is unacceptable while the engine is running. The Governor’s Highways Safety Association offers a chart outlining distracted driving laws for each state. Be sure both you and your teen are aware of your state’s regulations regarding mobile phone use while driving.

Leading by Example

While it is important to discuss these limits with your teen, your attempts may be futile if you do not practice your own guidelines. Your safety discussion and limitations with your teen will be infinitely more effective if you teach by example. Reinforce the serious repercussions of distracted driving by prohibiting all mobile phone use, even for you, no matter the state regulations. Distracted driving is not only a danger to young drivers; it is perilous to anyone behind the wheel. Take your safety seriously so your teen will do so as well.

Image by wired

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