Distracted teen driving

Keep your teen on track with distraction-free driving

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. But as with any important talk you have with your kids, it resonates more than you know.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2016, an estimated 292,742 teens (16 to 19 years old) were injured in crashes that resulted in 2,433 teen 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. Learn the facts (and maybe a few helpful tips) about how to help keep your teen safe after they pull out of the driveway.

SMART PHONES, DUMB DECISIONS, AND THE SECONDS IN BETWEEN

All that stands between your teenager and a catastrophic car crash is 3 seconds.

  1. One second to scan for and detect threats.
  2. One second to recognize what the threat demands.
  3. One second to decide how to respond in order to avoid or lessen the severity of the impact.

While there are many ill-advised behaviors that contribute to car accidents, texting is especially dangerous because it combines the trifecta of distractions that effectively waste those three vital seconds.

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off of the road
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the steering wheel
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off of driving

THE RISKS DON’T STOP AT CELL PHONES

Texting often gets the brunt of the blame for car accidents involving teens — and it definitely contributes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 21 percent of distracted driving 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.

FOCUSED DRIVING

Here are some ideas to get your teens thinking about the task, not the text.

  • Lead by example. Recent studies found that more than two-thirds of parents have read a text while behind the wheel. 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. No matter what they say, kids model their behavior after their parents. If they see you texting or multitasking behind the wheel, they’re more likely to take the same risks, too.
  • Wait to respond. 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.
  • Take advantage of available resources. The NHTSA offers a whole library of resources for teens and their parents to learn about the dangers of distracted driving, including videos, safety pledges, quizzes, and statistics and other information.
  • 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 student awareness project at school to draw attention to this issue.

PICK YOUR BATTLES

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.

SHOULDS

  • Wait to get home to eat. Sifting through a fast-food bag in search of that last French fry while sailing through traffic is an obvious distraction. Encourage teens to wait to get home or to eat while parked. 
  • Eyes front. It’s natural to want to know what’s going on when passing a pulled-over car or accident. But rubbernecking is a good way to end up rear-ending someone or driving off the road altogether.

SHOULDN’TS

  • 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 to take a pledge to not drive 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.

  • Too many passengers. SADD 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 remind them to keep the volume to a reasonable level, if only to hear police and ambulance sirens.

  • Driving tired. 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.

  • Using hands-free technology. Think using a hands-free device while driving makes you safer? Not necessarily. Research from the National Safety Council shows that drivers using handheld or hands-free cellphones are four times more likely to crash. And just dialing a phone number increases a teen’s risk of crashing by six times, according to the NHTSA. 

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.™ Also, learn about teen driver discounts.

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Updated 9.19

Here are some ideas to get your teens thinking about the task, not the text.

  • Lead by example. Recent studies found that more than two-thirds of parents have read a text while behind the wheel. 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. No matter what they say, kids model their behavior after their parents. If they see you texting or multitasking behind the wheel, they’re more likely to take the same risks, too.
  • Wait to respond. 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.
  • Take advantage of available resources. The NHTSA offers a whole library of resources for teens and their parents to learn about the dangers of distracted driving, including videos, safety pledges, quizzes, and statistics and other information.
  • 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 student awareness project at school to draw attention to this issue.