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Thursday December 13, 14:43

Is Your Teen a Distracted Driver?

Teenage drivers are the worst offenders when it comes to distraction by electronic devices, especially by cell phones.
Teenage drivers are the worst offenders when it comes to distraction by electronic devices, especially by cell phones.

The odds are definitely stacked against teenagers when it comes to safe driving. Researchers have amassed irrefutable evidence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • More than 4,200 teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 were killed in car crashes in 2007.
  • About 400,000 were treated for injuries incurred in car crashes the same year.
  • Although young people ages 15-24 comprise 14 percent of the U.S. population, their injuries from car crashes account for almost 60 percent of the total cost of all injuries.
  • Teen drivers between ages 16 and 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to be involved in a crash, with 16 year-olds at the top of the category As alarming as these statistics are, they only serve as a backdrop for worse news: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently released a report stating that in 2008, almost 6,000 people were killed and a half million more were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. And these were only the verified instances. It's very difficult to prove driver distraction, especially when the driver lives to deny it. It's also difficult to track the actual number of such crashes because accident reports don't allow for electronic distractions such as cell phones, iPods, video games, BlackBerrys and GPS devices.

Researchers from the University of Utah, using cameras to track eye movements, concluded that text-messaging drivers take their eyes off the road for more than five seconds at a time, making them four times more likely to be involved in a car accident. It's worth noting that they may be the actual cause of an accident, or their reaction time to another driver's mistake may prevent their taking evasive action to avoid a possibly fatal crash. When it comes to the immediate issue of death and injury, knowing who is or isn't at fault is useless information.

As you might expect, teenage drivers, who statistics demonstrate are already handicapped by immaturity, poor decision-making skills, lack of experience and inadequate risk perception, are the worst offenders when it comes to distraction by electronic devices, because cell phone texting is their primary means of communication.

Several communities and a number of states have enacted legislation to ban cell phone use while driving or text-messaging by teenage drivers but to little or no avail. Teen drivers have demonstrated no change in their driving habits following the imposition of a ban in their state or town. They probably realize such a ban is very difficult to enforce.

As a parent, what can you do?

  • Start by giving your teens the facts because kids usually think they're being unfairly singled out ("I’ve seen more adults talking on the phone than kids!"), you should make sure you have the statistics pertaining to teenage driving available to back up your concerns.
  • Agree with them that adults are irresponsible too; that device-distracted bus drivers and train engineers have indeed caused deadly crashes, for which they will be prosecuted. But such claims don't let them off the hook.
  • If you think it might work, draw up a contract between you and your young drivers. If they still cannot earn your trust, develop more severe consequences appropriate to your situation.
  • If necessary, purchase monitoring software available online that allows you to check on their phone use in real time. Even though they might display outrage and insult, even the most stubborn teens will understand your reasons for, well, "spying."
  • Check at your kids' high school to see if driver education classes are updated to tackle the topic of electronic device use while driving so as to more adequately alert new drivers to the inherent dangers of distracted driving.
  • If your teen calls you while driving, tell him or her to hang up and call back when the car is safely stopped, and set a good example yourself. Nowhere in the statistics cited earlier does it say that teens cause the most serious accidents

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