Keeping Your Teen’s Eyes on the Road

teen driving while texting

In today’s fast-paced world, we’ve become accustomed to having news and information whenever we want it. These constant updates can be detrimental; with one particularly dangerous effect being distracted driving in teens.

The main cause of teen distracted driving is that they can’t wait until they get home to look at a text message or other social media. It is also the feeling of peer pressure from friends who want an immediate answer. And, smartphones, with new programs coming out all the time, provide consistent new distractions for teens. 

On the flip side, smartphones can also help prevent distracted driving. There are many smartphone apps that can disable phones while the owner is driving. Some are built-in to the phone’s operating system while others can be downloaded. One example, is if a driver gets a text while driving an automated reply is sent that the driver is on the road and will get back to the sender once they have reached their destination.

Another way to prevent distracted driving is to encourage passengers to speak up and tell their driver to put their phone down. Evidence shows that passengers in a car with a teen driver are actually the number one cause of distraction. When talking with your teen, encourage them to speak up, and say to their friend, “Hey, that’s unsafe,” when they feel their friend is making an unsafe choice—friends speaking up, tends to be a better way for teens to understand that they need to put their phone down while driving.

We work with many schools and use observational assessment data to track how many people we see using electronic devices while driving. We then use that data to promote educational efforts—through guest speakers, public service announcements, or the use of virtual reality goggles that simulate real-life scenarios, such as distracted driving.

In New Hampshire, distracted driving is one of the top three causes of traffic crashes, from fender benders to fatal events. Impairment and speed are the other top ones. Ninety-four percent of all car crashes are preventable; this is why we don’t call them accidents, we call them crashes. The top three causes of car crashes are all a result of choices that drivers are making behind the wheel.

Since the Hands Free Law came into effect in New Hampshire in 2015, distracted driving crashes have decreased. This law prohibits the use of hand-held devices while driving, but allows the use of a Bluetooth device if over the age of 18. If caught using a hand-held device while driving there are substantial fees.

Distracted driving is an easy thing to think about, but to stop being distracted and focus on driving is a constant challenge. All drivers need to stay focused while driving, and parents need to set an example for their teens. Put down your phone while driving.

Another resource for safe driving tips for teens is the Ford Driving Skills for Life.

Chelsie L. Mostone is the Highway Safety Specialist at the Injury Prevention Center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.