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Keeping Teenage Drivers Safe on the Road

Having a teenage driver in the family might just be the most terrifying part of your child transitioning into an adult. Many teens are involved in several extracurricular activities in their school, have jobs and always a busy social life.  My husband and I scrounged up enough money to buy our son an old pickup truck when he was in high school mainly so he could get our daughter back and forth to school for band practice, tennis, student council and seemingly a hundred other obligations. Where most of us as parents can relate to and remember our high school days being a life of constant doing and little sleeping, those of us that did have cars had fewer distractions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet. 

My parent’s minivan had a bag phone in 1990. I never used it, I can’t even remember why- maybe it cost too much to make a call. Either way, I could have never imagined that when my own children became teenagers, they and everyone they knew would have their own phone always on their person.

Any distraction is a potential accident for any driver, though for someone who is still learning the ropes it’s tenfold. The radio, eating, and passengers could all result in a wheel jerk or slam to the brake. A text, a phone call, a notification from social media or a video game yelling at your teen to make his/her move is a new kind of distraction. The kind that nightmares can be made of.

A recent NBC news report refers to the beginning of summer as “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teenage drivers.  The video is primarily based on AAA statistics which state that “16 & 17-year-olds are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash and those fatal accidents involving teens jumps 15% over the summer”.

So what can you do as a parent to help keep your teen safe? My husband always says “Nothing good happens after eleven”. He based our teen’s curfew on that believing that by eleven the roads became an even more dangerous place to be. Beyond finger-crossed parenting, the same technology that brought our kids the smart phone has also brought us as parents “apps for that”.  OnlineDriversEd.com has a list of the best apps for parents to keep track of their driving and smartphone use. Some block calls and texts during driving while some notify parents when their teen exceeds the speed limit or breaks a driving law. The site warns that even an app to prevent an accident could become its own distraction. As a parent, I also wonder if there’s a point of being too invasive into a teenagers life. Gauging between a possible life threatening situation and letting them learn to make good choices on their own is hard. I experienced those nights where I sat in the living room at midnight with a cup of coffee in one hand and my phone in the other waiting for my teen to walk in the door or send the prayed for text, “Mom I’m okay”.  We didn’t have the technology then that we have today, and that was only three to five years ago.

So let’s look at the numbers; “11 teens die each day due to texting and driving. 21% of teens involved in a fatal accident were distracted by their cell phones” –AAA. 

Here’s another thought to take into consideration, it’s not just our teens who are being distracted by that world at our fingertips. A 2014 USA Today article (the most recent on the topic) states that 26% of all accidents are related to smartphone use. According to ATT’s It Can Wait, 7 out of 10 people are using their smartphones while driving, 10% on a video chat and a shocking 17% taking “selfies”.

Accidents happen.  Cars can be repaired. Turn the phone off and enjoy the scenery! Lives are precious- we can all do a better job to get everyone home…safe and sound.

Blog Author:  Audrey Elder, Past to Present Research, LLC