Distracted driving is one of the most common teen driving mistakes — and also one of the most dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,142 people were killed as a result of distracted driving in 2020.
In addition, approximately 424,000 injuries per year result from crashes involving a distracted driver. That's over 35,000 per month and 1,161 per day.
Car crashes are the second leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times as likely to be in a fatal crash as drivers aged 20 or older.
It's clear distracted driving is a problem, which is why we're covering some ways you can help protect yourself or your teen—right on time for National Teen Safety Week.
Young Drivers Need Special Attention and Guidance
Being young and an inexperienced driver can be a dangerous combination. The part of our brain responsible for making wise decisions isn't fully developed yet in teens, which is why young people often make choices that just don't seem smart to adults. So while drinking and driving or texting and driving may sound like a bad idea to an adult, it doesn't sound so risky for many teens.
This is why parents need to have frequent conversations with their teens about what is and isn't okay to do behind the wheel — and National Teen Safety Week is just the right time to do it. From October 16th to the 22nd, make the time to have a heart-to-heart with your teen about safe driving.
Go over the importance of wearing a seat belt, saying no to alcohol, and putting electronic devices away. Most teens know they're not supposed to drive distracted, but many don't see the harm in doing it right that moment — after all, the road is so empty right now (big mistake). The "scaring them straight" tactic frequently doesn't work. Instead, try being vulnerable and making them see why safe driving matters — it can save not only their lives but their friends' lives, too.
But Wait — What is Distracted Driving?
Anything that causes you to turn your attention away from your driving is a distraction. This lethal distraction falls into three broad categories:
Visual distraction, meaning your eyes are off the road, even for a few seconds.
Manual distraction, meaning your hands are off the wheel.
Cognitive distraction, meaning your mind focuses on something other than driving.
Texting while driving is a combination of all three of these dangerous types of distractions.
Consider this: if you take your eyes off the road for a mere five seconds while you're driving at 55 mph, your car travels the length of a football field in that time. That's a long distance to cover when you aren't looking where you're going.
Teens Don't Realize the Danger They're In
Today's generation of teens doesn't know life without technology at their fingertips, and this can make dangerous behaviors seem harmless. A 2019 study of U.S. high school students found that:
Of those who drove in the past 30 days, 39% of high school students admitted to texting or emailing while driving at least once.
Texting or emailing while driving was equally common among students earning mostly As and Bs as it was among those earning mostly Cs, Ds, or Fs.
Students who texted or emailed while driving also reported engaging in other risky behaviors, like not wearing a seatbelt, driving after drinking alcohol, and/or riding with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
How to Fight Back Against Texting and Driving
There are currently 48 states, along with Washington, D.C. that have banned texting while driving. Besides following your state’s distracted driving laws, there are steps teens can take to help prevent any urge to use a cellphone behind the wheel.
Set your phone or app to "driving" mode. This will automatically respond with a message while you're driving.
Use a hands-free device (if a call must be made or received). While this is still a distracting and risky behavior, at least both hands will stay on the wheel.
Pull off to the side of the road if a cellphone must be handled (ex. responding to an emergency text, using your GPS).
Let passengers handle any calls.
Raising Awareness of Distracted Driving
There are some important steps parents can take to help their teens become better drivers. This includes increasing teens' awareness of the importance of avoiding distractions when driving by modeling appropriate behavior behind the wheel. Parents should also establish rules for using a cell phone in the car at an early age.
Schools can help by including lessons on the dangers of distracted driving. Teachers and counselors can help dispel myths teens hear about texting and driving.
Communities can come together to promote programs and campaigns to increase awareness of the dangers of texting when behind the wheel.
Safe Teen Driving Starts with Driver's Ed
It’s common knowledge that teens often don’t want to take advice from their parents. This is one of the reasons why it’s so beneficial to provide your teen with lessons from a professional driving instructor.
Our friendly and patient teachers will ensure your teen understands all the rules of the road and is skilled and confident when it’s time to get behind the wheel. Learn more about our driver's ed program and how to get started today!