How Active Participation Helps Teens Understand Safe Driving Concepts

Most adults understand that teens tend to tune out long lectures about safe driving (or anything else), but parents and teachers also know that they have important messages to pass on, and they are sometimes at a loss as to other methods of doing so. Creative thinking in terms of teaching methods, both in the home and at school, can mean the difference between messages that teens will ignore versus those they will integrate into their driving behavior. This is so important with driving; motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Obviously, lectures aren’t working.

Recently, First Coast News of Jacksonville, FL profiled four teenagers who had created a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to promote safe driving. The PSA shows a teen driving while listening to music, eating, and using a cell phone to talk and text; she eventually glances at the road just in time to see that it’s too late to avoid a motor vehicle crash.

Reporters quizzed the teens on whether or not they’d ever performed any of these unsafe driving behaviors. The teens admitted to doing so but also said that making the PSA had heightened their awareness of how dangerous these behaviors are, which had caused them to curb the behavior. The teens said that creating the PSA had made the consequences of distracted driving, such as getting into a crash and being seriously injured, seem real. This is more of an accomplishment than one might think; teens’ brains are not biologically developed enough for them to control impulses and understand the consequences of their behavior, which is why convincing them to drive safely is such an uphill battle.

Another benefit of this type of active participation is that these teens became positive role models for their peers, influencing them to drive more safely. Peer pressure is a reality that must not be ignored; many teens perform more (both in intensity and in number) risky driving behaviors when they are accompanied by teen passengers. Whether the teen driver is bowing to external pressure from friends or internal pressure to show off, the effect is the same. The key is not to try to convince teens to disregard peer pressure, an almost impossible task, but to convert the peer pressure into a positive influence.

Making the PSA also had the effect of helping these teens take responsibility for their driving behavior. Again, this is typically a difficult task. Teens have a variety of sources, legitimate and irrational, to blame for their poor choices; reaching maturity means accepting responsibility for their decisions and the attendant consequences, along with realizing that they are the ones who make the ultimate decision to be safe drivers.

Listening to a lecture is a passive process; making a PSA is an active process because it forces the teen to engage with and think about safe driving concepts. Of course, having every teen in America make a PSA about safe driving would be a logistical nightmare, and due to teens’ short attention spans, the experience would soon wear thin. But the concept of having teens participate in an active learning process about safe driving could be utilized in every household and in every school.

Before assigning an active-participation project to teens, consider their interests. Most teens love music, popular television shows, being with friends, and talking about themselves. Most teens are self-conscious about their appearance and are interested in grooming, clothes, and accessories. Many teens also have a special hobby, such as gaming, art, computers, writing, or sports. Many are also interested in exploring new ideas – the perfect time to let them get creative with how to disseminate safe driving messages. Ideas include:

  • Designing a poster or series of posters
  • Writing a song, using computer software to write accompanying music
  • Writing an episode of their favorite television show
  • Performing a skit with friends
  • Giving their own “presidential address”
  • Designing a clothing/accessory line
  • Creating a video game

To avoid boredom, vary the topics assigned to the teen, but for maximum benefit, assign topics that relate to common teen driving mistakes, such as:

To further engage their critical thinking skills, have teens present their messages from other points of view. For example, teens who are interested in politics can give a presidential address about enacting laws to lower teen deaths in motor vehicle crashes; teens who are interested in sports can create an advertising campaign showing how drinking and drugs can impair athletic ability. Until the project is finished, try to provide encouragement and support without too much assistance; let teens follow the research and learning process to its logical conclusion.

Helping teens engage in an active learning process regarding safe driving behavior is a requirement for reducing the teen death rate on our nation’s roadways.