How to talk to teens about distracted driving

How to Talk to Teens About Distracted Driving

Learning to drive: It’s a milestone in life that adolescents eagerly anticipate. But, this newfound freedom also comes with a responsibility that many teens do not yet fully understand. In fact, car crashes are the number one cause of death for teens. The good news is that parents can help keep their children and our roads safe by talking to teens about distracted driving and teaching best practices early on.

What is Distracted Driving?

In order to talk to your teen about distracted driving, it is helpful to first understand what it is and its implications.

Distracted driving is partaking in any activity that diverts attention away from the task of driving. Accidents generally happen because of an unexpected event. The difference between a close call and an automobile crash can be a decision made in a split second. An activity such as changing the radio station or answering a phone call takes time. By maintaining full attention to the road, you are giving yourself that extra time you might need to avoid a crash.

While young drivers are more prone to this risky behavior, drivers in all age groups are guilty of distracted driving. It is one of the leading causes of crashes and something that should be taken seriously. In 2016, ten percent of teen automobile fatalities involved distracted driving and it killed 3,450 people across all age groups. In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

Types of Distracted Driving

The following actions are common causes of distraction while driving and should be avoided.

  • Texting
  • Talking on the Phone
  • Fidgeting with the Radio or GPS
  • Eating
  • Engaging with Passengers
  • Transporting Pets
  • Looking at Oneself in a Mirror
  • Smoking
  • Observing Billboards or Other Exterior Distractions

When and How Should You Talk to Your Teen About Safe Driving?

The first year of driving is the most important time to have conversations with teens about driving risks and being a responsible driver. However, it’s never too late.

When parents do talk to their teens about distracted driving, it can be helpful to remember that driving is a step toward adulthood. According to Laurence Steinberg, PhD, Distinguished University Professor and Laura H. Carnell Professor of Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, parents need to recognize that “although your child doesn’t have the same level of knowledge, information, wisdom or experience as you do, he or she has essentially the same logical tools and can see through logical fallacies and lapses in what’s sensible.” In other words, the “do-it-because-I-said-so” approach likely won’t yield the results you are hoping for.

Instead, engage in a conversation about safe driving rather than lecturing on the topic. Stay calm if disagreements arise and remain persistent with your message. Also, understand that your teen may be experiencing a mix of emotions about driving, such as excitement and fear.

Conversation Topics Around Distracted Driving

The magnitude of poor decision making while driving far surpasses consequences teens have previously experienced, such as a receiving a bad grade on a report card. The following are topics and techniques parents can use to broach the topic and reinforce its seriousness:

  • Identify Real Life Examples – defensive driving 101 is to always assume that other people are going to make a mistake. While driving in the car with your teen, point it out if you see a driver who is on the phone, not using a turn signal, running a red light or ignoring speed limits.
  • Disclose Personal Experiences – talking about your own driving mistakes, experiences and lessons learned can add a personal and more genuine touch to your conversation, as well as establish a level of respect and trust with your teen.
  • Walk and Talk – driving errors can affect more than just other drivers. Pets, cyclists, parked cars/stationary items and pedestrians are all at risk. Use a walk or bike ride together as an opportunity to talk about distracted driving while being in the element.
  • Did you Know – sharing an interesting fact can help grab your teen’s attention. For example, sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for 5 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed.
  • Be a Role Model – the golden rule applies to more than just how you treat other people. When you are behind the wheel, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want your son or daughter to do.
  • It’s the Law – Missouri and Illinois have laws to prevent teenage drivers from distracted driving. The graduated drivers license processes in both states have restrictions on the number of passengers, cell phone use and curfews.

Practice Safe Driving

Another way to help enforce safe driving is to practice often. The DriveitHOME initiative from the National Safety Council recommend taking your teen out driving at least 30 minutes a week. This is a good time to not only talk to your teen about distracted driving, but also practice skills such as reversing, night driving, driving in bad weather and parallel parking. You can find weekly lessons and other resources on the DriveitHOME website.

By practicing distraction-free driving, you and your teen will help make our roads a safer place to travel. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. If you or a loved one was injured in a distracted driving related crash, the law office of Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum may be able to help. Contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced St. Louis car crash attorneys.