Preventing teen distracted driving
Lindsay Clukies, MD, is a Washington University emergency medicine physician and associate medical director for trauma services at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
While obtaining a driver’s license can be a very exciting time for teenagers, the thought of your teenager being alone on the road can be extremely frightening to parents. Teen drivers are inexperienced, and if their brains are distracted and thinking about anything other than driving, there is potential for significant harm.
Why are teens easily distracted? Because anything that takes your attention away from driving can be a distraction and teens have a lot on their minds! Sending or responding to text messages, eating and changing the radio station are all examples of distractions that can endanger people on the road. About 3,000 people die in crashes involving a distracted driver every year, and drivers under 20 years of age have the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes.
Knowing the statistics and facts about teen distracted driving can help but modeling safe driving behaviors is arguably a more influential approach. You should talk to your teens about common driving distractions when you teach them how to drive and always show them by example when you are behind the wheel.
While it may be exciting for your teen to invite all of their friends to jump in the car, accidents are more likely to happen when a teenager drives with others inside. Driving with friends can create a dangerous driving environment because new drivers are often more focused on their friends than on the road. You shouldn’t allow your teen to drive with other teens until they have more experience. You should also limit the number of passengers and the level of activity inside the car.
We all know that teenagers are attached to their cell phones, which is why texting and driving is such a concern. You shouldn’t let your teens use the phone when they drive. A 2019 study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that almost 40 percent of high school students who drove in the past 30 days admitted to texting or emailing while driving on at least one of those days. When teens attempt to do multiple things at once, like texting and driving, it slows down their reaction time, making them more dangerous on the road. Teens should put their phones out of reach, such as in the glove compartment, back seat, or even in the trunk.
It’s important for all drivers in the family to make a pledge never to text or talk on the phone while driving and for parents to lead by example. Lastly, your teenager should download an app like DriveMode or TextDrive, which silences alerts, phone calls, and texts and can send out auto-replies while driving. Parents can sign up to receive alerts when children turn off or disable the app.
Eating, putting on makeup, changing radio stations – all are more examples of distracted driving. Studies show that the amount of information people can process at once is limited. Since teens have less experience driving, even the slightest distraction can lead to significant harm. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, people who are distracted and fail to focus their full attention on the road are the leading cause of most crashes. You should make sure your teens focus on the road and the drivers around them and get everything settled before they start driving.
This article was originally published by the Childrens Mom Docs, who are all pediatricians at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. They work in the emergency room, the newborn intensive care unit, on the psychology team and more. They are also moms.
These are more than professional opinions. For the Children’s MomDocs, this is personal.
For more helpful tips from the Children’s MomDocs, visit www.Childrensmd.org .
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