Distracted teen driving

Your job as a parent is to keep your kids safe, healthy, and happy. But when the teen years hit, the yearning for independence gets stronger by the day. And once they get a driver’s license, the “what’ifs” are plentiful enough to keep any mom or dad awake at night. The good news is, you’re still the first line of defense when it comes to their well-being. Keeping them safe on the road begins at home — from teaching them about distracted driving to dealing with peer pressure. Learn the facts (and maybe a few helpful tips) about how to keep your teen safe when the miles separate you.

When a cruise becomes a crash: Distractions and teen drivers

All that stands between your teenager and a catastrophic car crash is three seconds. One second to scan for and detect threats, one second to recognize what the threat demands, and one second to decide how to respond in order to avoid or lessen the severity of the impact.

Add the distraction of a cell phone or a passenger, plus general lack of experience behind the wheel, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. According to the Centers for Disease Control, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. But the good news is, they’re preventable.

Smart phones, dumb decisions

While there are many ill-advised behaviors that contribute to car accidents, texting is especially dangerous because it combines the trifecta of distractions: visual (taking your eyes off of the road), manual (taking your hands off the steering wheel), and cognitive (taking your mind off of driving). Here are some ideas to get your teens thinking about the task, not the text.

  • Encourage healthy peer pressure. Most parents know that lectures often fall flat, so instead of making a list of rules, try getting your teenager involved. Encourage your child to join a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter or organize a mural or collage project at school to draw attention to an important message without being heavy-handed or stern.
  • Use what you’ve got. Social media is a great platform for teens to express themselves, but it can also be an excellent way to communicate with your child and their friends about the daily issues they face. Consider sharing a “Faces of Distracted Driving” video on Facebook or Twitter to help educate other parents and their kids.
  • Lead by example. When you’re driving and your teen is a passenger, put your phone away and out of reach and request that your child do the same. Use the time to actually talk to your child instead of scanning texts at stoplights — or worse, while you’re actually in motion. That return text or call can wait.
  • Hands-free doesn’t mean risk-free. Think using a hands-free device while driving makes you safer? Not necessarily. Research from the National Safety Council shows that the activity area of the brain that processes moving images decreases by up to one-third when talking or listening to a phone. There is some research, too, that voice-to-text options are even more distracting than typing by hand, so that “safety” feature shouldn’t be taken at face value.

The risks don’t stop at cell phones

Although phones get a lot of flak, don’t forget about the other dangers and temptations your teen faces behind the wheel.

  • Skip the drive-thru. Sifting through a fast-food bag in search of that last French fry while sailing through traffic is an obvious distraction. Appeal to your teen’s pride in their ride. Gift him or her with car wash gift certificates and air fresheners to encourage a crumb-free car.
  • Mind your own business. It can be difficult not to rubberneck when you see a car pulled over by a police officer or when you’re passing an accident, but giving into this distraction is a good way to end up rear-ending someone or driving off the road altogether. "Eyes front" should be your mantra.

For more information

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has great vehicle safety information at the click of a button. If you want to get involved in educating your community about the dangers of distracted driving, go check out Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD).

Updated 3.17

Drinking, driving, and your teen

Everyone has had a case of spring fever, but when you’re a teenager looking forward to graduation, prom, or summer in general, it can be really bad . And although the parties that accompany the end of the school year are something to look forward to, they come with some risks.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), approximately one-third of all traffic crash fatalities in the United States involve drunk drivers (with blood alcohol concentrations of .08 or higher). And although teen drinking and driving has decreased over the last decade, car crashes are still the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter of those crashes involve an underage, intoxicated driver.

What works — and what doesn’t

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 85 percent of high-school teens who report drinking and driving in the past month also admitted to binge drinking, or having more than five alcoholic beverages in the space of two hours. As scary as that is to parents, there are ways to discourage underage drinking and driving, and it usually begins at home.

  • Be honest. Hey, it’s not easy admitting that it’s possible your kid could find him or herself at a party with a drink in hand, and it’s even tougher to imagine them actually getting behind the wheel. But according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), only one in 100 parents believe that their teen binge drinks, but one in seven teens do it. Instead of giving your kids a list of what not to do, try creating a “safe zone.” Tell your teen they won’t be punished for calling for help; it can help them make better decisions down the road.
  • Live by example. In other words, don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t let your kids see you have a drink — yes, even one — and get behind the wheel. 
  • Resist the “cool” label. Yeah, we get it. Most parents want to appear hip to their teenagers and their friends, but don’t let that come at a price. You may have heard your friends say, “Well, isn’t it safer and easier to let Joey drink at home with his friends instead of somewhere else?” Perhaps, if jail time, exorbitant legal fees, and risking children’s lives seems “easier.” No matter what, the legal drinking age is 21. Period.
  • Consider being a sober host. Teens will likely see their fair share of after-prom and graduation party invites after the last of the snow melts. Why not offer to throw the shindig at your place? An alcohol-free event can still be a lot of fun — consider hiring a student DJ or band and providing all the junk food your kid and their friends can hold. 

Teach protection

Use your talks about drinking and driving as an opportunity to educate your teen on the importance of having quality car insurance. Contact a Grinnell Mutual agent today about what coverage your teen needs.

The gang's all here

We’ve all been in a room full of teenagers — between the animated chatter, loud music, and texting back and forth, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Cram all of that energy into the cramped confines of a car and it can get dangerous fast. Statistics from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute show that when teen drivers have two or more passengers, it more than triples the risk of a fatal crash. Once your teen gets his or her license, the chances are high they’ll be chauffeuring their friends.

Know the dangers that precede disaster

Texting often gets the brunt of the blame for car accidents involving teens. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving causes 12 percent of fatal crashes among teens, and 21 percent of those crashes involve cell phones. But there’s a long list of other distractions that can turn a trip to the mall into a nightmare for a group of teens.

  • Too many passengers. Students Against Distracted Driving says that a teen driver interacting with other passengers is the leading cause of distracted driving crashes. Teens love to travel in packs and are known to overcrowd vehicles, often leaving passengers without seatbelts. Once the music gets pumping and friends start getting rowdy, it’s almost impossible for drivers to keep their eyes on the road. Put a passenger limit on your teen’s vehicle and gently remind them to keep the volume to a dull roar.
  • Have a zero-tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol. You can’t be with your child 24/7, but it’s really important to have a serious discussion about substance abuse and getting behind the wheel. Even if your teen doesn’t partake, the chances are good he or she will be faced with the temptation to get into the car of someone who does. Consider discussing and implementing a kid-parent contract that will help keep your teen on the right path.
  • Establish a car curfew. Teens simply aren’t all that experienced behind the wheel. Add the limited visibility of nighttime driving and possible drowsiness — driving teammates home from a late night practice, for example — and you’ve got a potentially lethal mix. Make sure your teen knows he or she needs to have the car back in the garage no later than 9 p.m., and offer the group a ride if you know they’ll be out later. Many states have curfews for teen drivers set by law, which means you can make the state the bad guy in that conversation.

Protect your car, too

Grinnell Mutual offers great auto insurance and lots of discounts. See what we can do for you.

Parental guidance suggested

We know what you’re thinking. The idea of talking to your son or daughter about distracted driving probably has you rolling your eyes — and your teen responding in kind. We get it. It can seem like it’s a conversation that will fall on deaf ears, but like any important discussion you have with your kids, it resonates more than you know.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2014, an estimated 123,000 teens (15 to 19 years old) were injured in crashes that resulted in 2,679 deaths. The best thing you can do to protect your kids is to talk to them. And only you can model how to be safe and confident.

Pick your battles

Instead of presenting a long lecture about what your teen shouldn’t do, start with the positives. Here’s what you and they should do:

  • Communicate. Discouraging your child from traveling without a phone isn’t a great idea. Emergencies happen, and it’s important that your teenager can get ahold of you. But don't get angry if they don’t respond to a text or a call right away. CBS News recently pointed out that many distracted teen drivers are actually responding to their parents’ insistent texts.
  • Be honest. Forty-one percent of teens say their parents model unsafe behavior while driving. Sometimes copping to your own blunders behind the wheel can help your teen understand that you make mistakes just like everyone else.
  • Get educated. Your teen should be aware of the consequences of distracted driving. Together, watch videos about how being compromised while driving can lead to really serious consequences. And consider attending a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) event. Not only will you be taking a proactive stance, you can help make a difference alongside your child.

A fight worth having

Sometimes as a parent, you have to put your foot down. Once you’ve got the “shoulds” in place, you still have to take a look at the “shouldn’ts” — and then stick to them.

  • Booze? You lose. This is one rule no one should bend on. Be kind but firm when discussing alcohol and drug use with your teen, especially when it comes to operating a vehicle. Make sure they know they can call you — without judgment or punishment — if they’re faced with a situation that could result in a DUI or deadly crash. And encourage your child and their friends to take a pledge not to ride with someone who’s under the influence.
  • Follies aren’t funny. Showing off while driving (drag racing, blowing through stoplights and signs) can come at a much higher price than just a speeding ticket. Don’t hesitate to revoke driving privileges if your teen is in an at-fault accident or is caught behaving badly at the wheel.
  • Just say no to multitasking. This is your chance to lead by example: Don’t apply makeup, text, operate a GPS, or snack behind the wheel, even at stoplights. Show your teen that it can wait.

For more information

The future doesn’t always keep its promises. Fortunately, we do. Should the road ahead be unpredictable, you and your teen can trust that your auto insurance will be there — today and well into the future. Trust in Tomorrow.™ Contact your agent today. Also, ask about teen driven discounts, like our Good Student Discount.

Updated 4.17