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How a distracted driving discussion can help parents and teens

The day their child gets their driver's license is something of a bittersweet occasion for most parents. While they are undoubtedly proud of their son or daughter for their achievement, they may also have real anxiety about letting them get behind the wheel all by themselves.

The good news, according to experts, is that there is at least one very important step that parents can take to help ensure that their teen driver stays safe while driving to school, work and social engagements: talking to them about the dangers of distracted driving.

While the foremost distracted driving risk -- talking and texting while driving -- is perhaps obvious to parents, it may not always be obvious to teens. Indeed, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reveal the following:

  • 10 percent of drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal car accidents were documented as being distracted at the time the accident occurred. 
  • 25 percent of teens admitted to responding to a text message at least once while driving, while 20 percent admitted to engaging in prolonged text conversations while driving.

Aside from warning teens about the need to power down and store their smart phones while driving, experts say it's also equally important for parents to talk about the distracted driving dangers posed by other things like navigation/GPS systems, audio systems/MP3 players, passengers and even pets.

To that end, some valuable tips for teens concerning these topics may include:

  • Making sure they know to input addresses or adjust the GPS system only while the car is stopped.
  • Making sure they know to set up music selections before leaving and resist the urge to browse song libraries while in motion.
  • Making sure they know to avoid reckless actions behind the wheel (speeding, etc.) because of peer pressure.
  • Making sure they know to keep pets locked in a kennel while driving.

Having a reasoned and informative discussion with your teen about distracted driving dangers -- and driving expectations in general -- can go a long way toward keeping them safe and giving you much-needed peace of mind going forward.

Source: EHS Today, "The keys to safe teen driving," Andrew Womble, April 11, 2014; Distraction.gov, "What is distracted driving?" April 2014 

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