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. Talk to your child’s school about hosting a fun distracted driving event or a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter at his or her school. A student-organized mural or collage project within the school can help 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 about the cost of not paying attention when they’re behind the wheel.
- 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. AAA maintains that voice-to-text options are even more distracting than typing by hand, so be aware that the latest “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. Teach your kids that it’s bad manners to gawk at someone in trouble and to keep their eyes on what’s in front of them, not behind them.
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