Recent research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reveals that from 2014 to 2015, the United States experienced the largest increase fatalities from car crashes in nearly 50 years. And, almost 9% of those fatalities were due to distracted driving, which is defined as “the practice of driving a motor vehicle while engaged in another activity, typically one that involves the use of a cellular phone or electronic device.”
People have always found ways to get distracted while driving; conversing with passengers, messing with the radio stations, or eating a meal from the drive-through all take attention away from effectively operating a vehicle. However, in recent years, technology has added even more dangerous distractions. Most specifically, the rise of cell phone use while behind the wheel. Drivers are now able to not only make phone calls while behind the wheel, but they can also browse the internet and read and reply to text messages.
When it comes to young drivers, 20% of these individuals between the ages of 18-20 feel that texting has no impact on their driving. However, texting while driving is the most serious form of distracted driving, because it combines getting distracted in three ways:
- Visually: Drivers are looking at their phones and not the road.
- Manually: One or possibly both hands are off the wheel tapping out a message to someone.
- Cognitively: As drivers focus on reading and composing a reply, they aren’t thinking about the road ahead of them.
Talking to Your Teen about Distracted Driving
The National Safety Council has designated April as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month to draw attention to this epidemic responsible for the increasing number of vehicle crashes and fatalities over the past several years. As a parent of a newly licensed teen driver, it’s vital to make the pledge with your child to “Just Drive.
Teens are notorious for feeling invincible, like a serious car accident couldn’t happen to them. Maybe others can’t handle answering a quick text message while driving, but surely nothing that bad could happen by taking their eyes off the road for just a few seconds. However, when traveling at a rate of 55 mph, just five seconds is enough time to drive nearly one and a half times the entire length of a football field.
Parents should know that research shows one quarter of teens respond to a text message once or more EVERY time they drive. In fact, 20% of teens state they have extended conversations via text message while driving. This is why it’s so important to talk to your teen about the dangers of distracted driving and set some ground rules for using their cell phones in the car before they get behind the wheel.
First, emphasize that driving is a privilege and not a right. If the rules are broken, their keys will be taken away. Then, explain that there’s a time and a place for multi-tasking, but driving is not one of those times. It’s important to fully focus on the road; cell phones should be put away in a purse or the glove compartment until they arrive at their destination. Not being able to see incoming texts while driving will lessen the need that teens often feel to respond right away.