Young drivers, ages 15-to-20-years old, are especially vulnerable to death and injury on our roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.
Research shows there are a variety of behaviors that contribute to teen-related crashes. Inexperience and immaturity combined with speed, drinking and driving, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (cell phone use, loud music, other teen passengers, etc.), drowsy driving, nighttime driving, and other drug use aggravate this problem.
And when it comes to distracted driving, young people are among the most likely to text and talk behind the wheel. Approximately 16 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers younger than 20.
Distracted driving is any activity that can take a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving. All distractions can endanger driver, passenger and pedestrian safety. Distractions include texting, talking on a cell phone or smartphone, eating and drinking, talking with passengers, grooming, reading (including maps), using a navigation system, watching a video and adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player.
Texting is the most alarming distraction because it involves manual, visual and cognitive distraction all at the same time. Sending or reading a text takes your eyes off the road for approximately 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of an entire football field, blindfolded. It’s extremely dangerous.
What parents can do
Distracted driving should not be tolerated. As a parent, it’s important to set ground rules well before your teen gets a learner’s permit. By clearly defining expectations before handing over the car keys, you can reduce the risk of frustrating conflicts, costly accidents and other challenges. You’ll also feel more confident about your young driver’s safety.
Ground rules should include no passengers in the car for the first 6 to 12 months of driving, limits on driving during bad weather, curfew considerations, restricting the number of passengers – especially teen or child passengers, and control the keys to the cars their kids drive.
It should be clear that driving should be done with minimal distractions. Texting, talking on a cell phone or smartphone, eating and drinking, talking with passengers, and other distractions should be discussed and avoided.
Finally, parents should model safe driving behavior. Show your teen driver that you are serious by avoiding the use of the cell phone, limited conversations with passengers and following the same rules about distraction that you set for your child.
Thomas Krzmarzick, MD, is medical director of the Soin Pediatric Trauma and Emergency Center at Dayton Children’s and clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at Wright State University’s School of Medicine.