Learning to drive is a teen's rite of passage into adulthood. This year, millions are finding it affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Brynn Wheelock is one of them.
Brynn, 15, had just begun the driver’s education course at her high school to get her learner's permit. Then the pandemic forced students into remote learning in March.
It was one of many obstacles Brynn and students just like her suddenly had to navigate.
The course was adjusted to be completed remotely. However, departments of motor vehicles across the country altered their policies and availability to services. Driving schools were forced to close. Young drivers turned to their parents and family members.
“I’m apprehensive about driving,” Brynn said. “I’ve had some bad experiences and been in a couple of accidents. Driving terrifies me.”
In addition to being a passenger in a vehicle during a minor crash, a distracted teen driver crashed into her middle school bus. The school bus driver veered to avoid the collision causing the bus to roll onto its side.
“Nobody was seriously hurt,” Brynn’s mother Noel Payne said. “But those things are scarring. And now she’s not very excited because driving is stressful for her.”
Her apprehension is not unwarranted. National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 18-24) is a time to remind teens of the need to remain focused behind the wheel. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens (15-18 years old) in the United States - ahead of all other types of injury, disease, or violence.
Because of the pandemic, more parents are teaching their children how to drive, while at the same time we are all driving fewer miles. Additionally, the distractions have changed. Parents didn’t have smart phones when they were teens.
In July 2020, State Farm surveyed teens (16-19 year-old drivers) to examine their attitudes and behaviors regarding the use of smartphones while driving. The survey revealed nearly nine out of 10 said they engage in at least one cellphone behavior while driving. Two-thirds of teens said they program a navigation app while driving. Just under half said they read text messages or talk on a hand-held phone when behind the wheel.
Parents may also be influencing their teenage children. Teens who said their parents use cellphones while driving were significantly more likely to engage in each phone activity.
“Putting the cell phone away is a conversation we have every time we are in the car and it’s a rule we’ve agreed upon,” Noel said. “There are so many distractions built into driving, she doesn’t need her cell phone to be one of them.”
Brynn knows she needs to remain focused on all the intricacies of learning. Especially understanding all the responsibilities of getting behind the wheel.
“I am not so worried about hitting someone. I feel like I am careful and understand the risks of driving and what I am doing,” Brynn said. “It is hard to focus on everything happening around you – what’s in front of you, what is behind you and alongside you or wherever anything else is coming from.
“I can control some of that,” Brynn said, “But I have no control over what other drivers are doing while they are behind the wheel. I’ve seen what can happen and that is scary.”