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Listen Up! Talking to Your Teen About Distracted Driving Cuts Their Crash Risk

Talk may be cheap, but when parents talk to their teens about the dangers of texting and driving, they listen and crash less. The key is to keep talking well after they’re licensed.

April is National Distracted Driving Month and despite all the attention given to addressing this risky behavior, a new State Farm survey conducted in February by Harris Interactive shows that the majority of teens drivers admit to texting while driving. Teens 14-17 years of age (there are states that license drivers as young as 15) were queried by telephone and their response is unchanged from a similar survey conducted two years ago.

While research confirms that this generation of teens understands the dangers of drinking and driving, the same doesn’t hold true for texting.  In the State Farm survey, 35 percent strongly agree that if they regularly text and drive they will be killed someday. However, more than half of the teens (57 percent), strongly agree that regularly drinking while driving will be fatal. The survey also showed that more teens think they could get into an accident when drinking while driving versus texting while driving. Sixty-three percent of teens strongly agree that they will get into an accident if they regularly text and drive, compared with 83 percent who strongly agree they’ll get into an accident if they regularly drink and drive.

So what’s the answer? Parents!  s I’ve pointed out in previous posts, teens who have parents who regularly talk to them about driving are 50 percent less likely to crash and 30 percent less likely to use electronic devices (i.e., text and talk) while driving. The State Farm survey found that more teens who never text and drive talk to their parents very often or sometimes about driving (82 percent) compared to teens who do text and drive (67 percent).

But this discussion appears to drop off after a teen obtains his driver’s license.  According to the survey findings, teens who have a learner’s permit are more than twice as likely as those who already have a license to report that they talk very often with their parents about driving (46 percent versus 22 percent).  Recognizing that the first 30 days of independent driving are the most deadly and that the risk remains extremely high through the first six months, continuing this discussion with your teen is critical.

Some say talk is cheap, but when it comes to teens and driving discussing the dangers of texting and driving, as well as seat belt use, and limiting passengers (remember, New Jersey’s Graduated Driver License or GDL program allows just one other occupant if the driver is holding a probationary license) and nighttime driving (off the road by 11 p.m.) are key to keeping them safe when they’re behind the wheel. Framing the discussion so that teens recognize that they aren’t bad drivers, but inexperienced will help them better understand why removing distractions and other risks from the vehicle is critical.

Staying on the subject of distraction, but shifting gears from texting to other distracting devices—what about teens using GPS? The question comes up a lot when I facilitate parent teen driving programs and was the subject of an e-mail I answered just yesterday. Under our GDL law, permit and probationary license holders are barred from using “any interactive wireless communication devices, except in an emergency, while operating a moving passenger automobile on a public road or highway.” That includes not only “talking or listening” on these devices as well as operating “keys, buttons or other controls.”

So under our law GPS use by a GDL holder is taboo. The ban makes sense when you consider how distracting GPS devices can be. Think about it this way, when you’re using GPS and about to make a turn prompted by the device, do you feel compelled to look at the screen or do you keep your eyes on the road and follow the auditory prompts?  Just like moths to a flame, I’m betting you look at the screen (it’s hard not to). Now imagine a teen with minimal experience glancing at the screen—those 2-3 seconds when he has his eyes off the road could prove deadly. Research conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes involve drivers who aren’t paying attention to traffic for up to three seconds before the event.

Recognizing that distraction/inattention is the number one cause of teen crashes in our state, limiting the use of GPS devices is important. However, I do recognize that they can be a godsend when you’re trying to find your way. I’ve spoken with a number of police officials about the GPS restriction and they all indicated it’s unlikely a teen would be stopped and cited for using a GPS device unless he’s spotted programming the device while driving and/or driving erratically.

So what’s a parent to do? If a teen is driving on familiar roads, I recommend no GPS use. However, if the device will help a teen get to his destination when driving a new route, I suggest that he (and this should apply to all drivers regardless of age and experience) program the GPS device before setting out and then place it (if it’s portable) out of view and listen for the directional prompts.  This will ensure that the teen isn’t looking at the screen, when he should have his eyes on the road.

If the GPS device is built into the car, again have your teen program it before taking to the road and, if possible, use it in audio mode only. If that’s not an option, remind him to listen rather than look when it’s time to make a maneuver.  Practicing this during the supervised driving or permit phase will help reinforce this behavior so that it becomes the norm when the teen drives solo. And parents
should practice what they preach since we are our children’s role models.

Finally, I must plug the second annual statewide Teen Safe Driving Summit, GDL4U: Good Driving for Life, which will be held on Saturday, May 12 in Freehold. Designed for teens 14 to 16 years of age and their parents, the event will feature teen-led interactive workshops, including a hands on distracted driving course.  Registration closes May 4, so I hope you’ll go online today and sign-up with your teen. I attended with my son last year (who was 15 at the time) and we both learned a lot that he’s now putting into practice as a permit holder.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gary Englert April 17, 2012 at 06:22 PM
I had a rather bizzare experience involving a young driver, just this past Saturday afternoon. Just before 6 PM, I was on Gregory Place (in West Orange) heading east and, stopped at the intersection of Gregory Avenue, when I saw a red, four-door Ford Focus traveling north on Gregory and make the the left turn (in front of me) onto Gregory Place. There nothing particularly unusual about that but, what was unusual is that a kid was riding outside the vehicle on the hood of the car! The kid was lying on his stomach, facing the driver and hanging onto the edge of the hood of a car moving at 30-40 MPH. I called WOPD and followed them long enough to get a plate number and relay it by which time, of course, the daredevil had gotten off the hood and back inside. The police responded quickly, pulled the 17 year old over, confiscated his keys, got him to admit his idiocy and got his parents on the phone. My guess is he and his crew are fans of Jackass.
John Fonseca April 17, 2012 at 09:06 PM
That's "Ship's Mast" from the movie Death Proof.
Pam Fischer April 22, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Ah there's the rub -- parents must practice what they preach. Sadly, some think that because they've been driving for years and haven't had an incident due to their distraction they're safe. But it only takes a second or two for bad things to happen. We have a lot of work to do to reach all drivers!
Michael Bush April 23, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Great post Pam. Teen drivers were doing so well in the late 1990's and early 2000's and the insurance rates were reflecting their improved experiences. The newer drivers were NOT drinking and driving and it seemed like a trend that would only get better. Then it all began to change. And the reason appears to be cell phones. Whether its talking, texting or surfing the net on their phones, it is clearly a big problem and one parents need to speak to their teens about.
Pam Fischer April 24, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Yes, parents can positively influence their teens, but it's also important that parents recognize that their teens started learning to drive when they were toddlers in car seats. Parents must be positive role models and recognize that what they do in the car is what their kids assume is appropriate or normal. If they text and drive, drink and drive, don't wear their seat belts... well, our kids will do this, too!

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