Teens and Distracted Driving
May 14, 2009
Car crashes are the number one killer of American teens, and the primary cause of fatal teen crashes is driver error. Driver distraction is included in the broad category of driver error. Though not every distracted teen driver is involved in a crash, distraction increases the risk of either causing a collision or being unable to avoid one. And though distracted driving is a problem for any driver, it is of special concern for inexperienced drivers, who may be distracted more easily and for longer periods of time and who may have difficulty controlling the vehicle even under normal conditions.
Modern diversions such as cell phones and other technical equipment are simply additions to traditional distractions such as eating, reading, dealing with passengers, reaching for objects, and looking at things or people outside of the vehicle. Dealing with passengers is one of the most frequently reported causes of distracted driving, and lively teen passengers can be particularly distracting to new drivers. Distracted driving is nothing new, but educational efforts to combat it are increasing.
It’s important to realize that when you’re driving, you’re already multitasking, because you are:
- Trying to control a large machine at high speed.
- Responding to the driving environment, including road and weather conditions, other traffic, and road signs and signals.
- Reacting to changing conditions, such as other drivers pulling out in front of you and pedestrians crossing the road ahead.
Adding another task to this list might be just enough to make you lose control of your vehicle or fail to act in time to prevent a collision.
The following tips will help prevent distracted driving:
- Increase your awareness of both physical and mental distractions. Physical distractions occur when you take your hands off the wheel and/or your eyes off the road. They happen when you adjust your stereo, take a drink of water, or reach for an object that has fallen on the floor. Mental distractions are sometimes more difficult to identify, because they don’t necessarily interfere with the physical act of driving. They occur when you argue or even laugh with a passenger, receive surprising or interesting news on your cell phone, or are preoccupied with a problem at school or work.
- Minimize the need for adjusting controls while you are driving. Take a few moments to prepare for your trip when you enter the vehicle. Adjust the seat position, climate control, stereo, and other devices before you leave your driveway or parking spot. If you are driving an unfamiliar vehicle, spend a few extra seconds locating the controls so you won’t need to look for them while you are driving.
- Review driving directions and maps, enter your destination into your navigation system and check traffic conditions before you leave. If you have a passenger, she or he can act as your navigator. Avoid sudden stop and turns while on the road by pulling over in a safe place, off the road and away from traffic, if you get confused or lost.
- Pull over to a safe place, off the road and away from traffic, to talk on the phone, text message or email. Using hands-free equipment is not safe enough because of the likelihood of mental distraction. Turn the phone off before you start out to reduce temptation.
- Stop at restaurants to eat or drink. Unwrapping food and condiment packages, reaching into bags, and having greasy fingertips are physical distractions. Realizing that you got the wrong sandwich is a mental distraction that is difficult to correct once you’ve left a drive-through window. Spilling coffee on your new shirt qualifies as both a physical and a mental distraction. Reduce your risk of a crash and your stress level by taking a few minutes to enjoy your meal outside of your vehicle.
- Keep in mind that your vehicle’s mirrors exist to help you view traffic, not yourself. Don’t use them for personal grooming while the vehicle is in motion.
As a driver, your only task when you enter your vehicle is to arrive safely at your destination. Anything else can be taken care of when you arrive. As a new driver, begin developing good habits right away by avoiding distractions and concentrating on your driving.
Four Ways Teens Benefit from Following Graduated Driver Licensing Laws
May 8, 2009
It isn’t uncommon for teens to rebel against Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws. They may reason that since they passed the driving test, they shouldn’t have to deal with restrictions. Or they may be unfamiliar with the GDL laws in their state and violate them unintentionally. But there are many benefits to obeying GDL laws for teens, such as:
1. They’re a chance to prove your maturity and trustworthiness. One of the basic requirements for functioning in our society is the ability to follow the rules. Teens who are unwilling to do so demonstrate a lack of maturity and make other people, specifically adults, think they can’t be trusted. Conversely, showing that you’re willing to abide by certain restrictions lets adults, specifically your parents, know that you are grown-up and dependable enough to handle additional privileges.
2. They can help you get out of risky situations with your pride intact. You may have the best intentions of following GDL laws, but sometimes friends make that a challenge. It might be hard to resist when a friend wants you to break curfew or pile one too many passengers into your vehicle; GDL laws give you an outside authority you can blame for your refusal to do these things. You can explain that you don’t want to get caught breaking the law because you might lose your license and/or your parents might ground you from driving if you get a traffic ticket.
3. They’re the law. You won’t be lying if you tell a friend you are afraid of losing your license for breaking GDL laws; violating the terms of the law could result in the loss of your driving privileges. If you get a ticket for breaking a GDL law, you will have to pay a fine and your insurance rates, which are already high, could increase. After accruing a certain number of points on your license, you could lose it for a specified period of time and have to pay more fines to get it back. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the GDL laws in your state.
4. They really do keep you safe. GDL laws exist because statistically, teens get into many more crashes than adult drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sixteen-year old drivers have crash rates that are about three times greater than 17-year-old drivers, five times greater than 18-year-old drivers, and approximately twice the rate of 85-year-old drivers. We know that GDL laws work, because there has been an overall decrease in fatal crashes involving teens nationally since GDL laws began to be implemented. Specific restrictions have also been found to be effective; for example, an NHTSA study found that states with nighttime driving restrictions for teen drivers show decreases in crashes of up to 60% during the restricted hours. GDL laws work because they help teens increase their driving skills while minimizing the risks of being on the road with limited experience.
You can probably see how these four factors tie together. If you break GDL laws, you show the adults in your life that you can’t be trusted, you are more likely to be peer-pressured into taking risks you know you shouldn’t take, you take a chance on losing your license, and you raise the possibility that you or someone riding with you will be injured or killed in a crash. When you choose to follow GDL laws, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
A Pre-Prom Plan for Avoiding Alcohol
May 6, 2009
Prom is an exciting event in the lives of many teens, who are preoccupied with buying dresses or renting tuxedos, selecting corsages and boutonnieres, choosing formal hairstyles, and making post-prom plans. But prom can also be a dangerous time for teens who choose to drink alcohol or ride with other teens who drink. You must plan ahead in order to ensure your own safety.
First, you need to understand that underage drinking is never acceptable. The fact that prom is a special occasion or that some parents might “look the other way” when their teenage children drink alcohol does not change the fact that underage drinking is illegal and very dangerous. If you are attending a party at a friend’s house, make sure your friends’ parents don’t intend to provide alcohol; if they do, tell your parents. This is illegal in every state. An alternative is to talk to your parents about organizing an after-prom party of your own.
If you will be riding with a friend, make sure it is someone whose parents do not permit the use of alcohol. You’ll still need to have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong. Create a code with your parents so you can signal for help without attracting your friends’ attention. If your parents don’t text, give them a few lessons before prom night; texting is a much easier way for you to communicate than via phone. If you need a ride, you can text a code that means “Please come get me!”, such as “Dinner was great!” When your parent arrives to pick you up, tell your friends you have a family emergency. Talk to your parents ahead of time about being able to call for a ride with no questions asked until the next morning, when you are calm and safe. However, if anyone at the event you are leaving is in danger of hurting themselves or others, you’ll need to tell your parent right away.
Make a record of your planned itinerary for the evening, and agree to inform your parents of any changes. Be alert to spontaneous changes in plans on the night of the prom; you won’t have as much control over the situation if it takes place in an unfamiliar location and/or with people you don’t know well. In the excitement of the evening, you could end up in a risky situation before you realize what is happening. This is why it’s especially important not to drink any alcohol at all, even a little; because even a small amount of alcohol reduces inhibitions and impairs judgment, you may react emotionally while under the influence without considering the consequences of your behavior.
Remember that the use of alcohol by teens increases the risk of activities that may result in serious long-term consequences, including:
- Use of other drugs (alcohol is a gateway drug because its use compromises judgment and reduces inhibitions)
- Driving under the influence
- Alcohol poisoning from binge drinking (teens often binge drink to relax and may participate in drinking games that result in ingestion of large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time)
- Increased sexual activity and multiple sexual partners due to lowered inhibitions, which increases the risk of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases
- Exacerbation of underlying, perhaps undiagnosed, mental illness
- Violence and rape (whether the victim is under the influence or not)
Planning for an alcohol-free prom may be a challenge, but doing so will help you have a safe, happy prom night.
Support for Graduated Driver Licensing Laws
April 30, 2009
According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), adolescent drivers, especially 16- to 17-year olds, are disproportionately involved in deadly motor vehicle crashes. Sixteen-year old drivers have crash rates that are about three times greater than 17-year-old drivers, five times greater than 18-year-old drivers, and approximately twice the rate of 85-year-old drivers. According to the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), specific contributors to these higher crash rates include:
- Lack of driving experience and skills: Compared with crashes of older drivers, those of 16-year-olds more often involve driver error.
- A propensity towards risk taking behavior and poor decision-making.
- Driving at night: Per mile driven, the nighttime fatal crash rate for 16-year-old drivers is twice as high as during daytime hours.
- Distraction from teenage passengers: Fatal crashes involving 16-year-old drivers are more likely to take place when other teens are in the vehicle, and the risk increases with every additional passenger.
- Speeding: Sixteen-year old drivers have a higher rate of crashes in which excessive speed is a contributing factor.
Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs help young drivers get driving experience progressively while minimizing risk, beginning with a restricted permit and eventually leading to full licensure.
Most programs include three stages:
- Learner Stage: Supervised driving, ending with a road test.
- Intermediate Stage: Limiting unsupervised driving in high-risk circumstances.
- Full Privilege Stage: A regular driver’s license.
Provisions of graduated licensing laws may include:
- Required hours of adult supervision during the learner stage.
- Restrictions on late-night driving.
- Restrictions on driving with teen passengers.
- Seat belt requirements for drivers and passengers.
- Restrictions on cellular phone use.
- Prohibiting the driver from moving up to the next level due to traffic violations.
GDL laws in most of the states that have them do not comply with all of the recommendations of the NHTSA; still, there has been an overall decrease in fatal crashes nationally since GDL laws began to be implemented. In 2006, 7,463 drivers who were 15 to 20 years old were involved in fatal crashes – an eight percent decrease from 8,074 involved in 1996. Individually, states with GDL laws also show improvement:
- California: A five percent decrease in crashes for 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
- Florida: A nine percent decrease in crashes for 16- and 17-year old drivers.
- Michigan: A 26% decrease in crashes for 16-year-old drivers.
- North Carolina: A 25% decrease in crashes for 16-year-old drivers.
- Oregon: A 29% decrease in crashes for 16-year-old drivers and a 16% decrease in crashes for 17-year-old drivers.
NHTSA research has also found that the most comprehensive GDL programs are associated with the greatest decrease in crash rates for teen drivers.
It is more difficult to evaluate the individual components of GDL laws because of the overlap of restrictions, but the NHTSA has conducted some research in this area. An analysis of the passenger restriction laws in California, Massachusetts, and Virginia indicated that there were 740, 173, and 454 fewer 16-year-old involved in crashes per year, respectively. A different study found that states with nighttime driving restrictions for teen drivers show decreases in crashes of up to 60% during the restricted hours.
Public support for GDL laws is also strong. In 2007, the NHTSA conducted the Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey (MVOSS), a national telephone survey about driver safety. Seventy-nine percent of the participants said that teen drivers should proceed from a learner’s permit to a provisional license status rather than directly to an unrestricted adult license. The results of the survey also indicated strong support, ranging from 73% to 99%, for specific restrictions on provisional driver license status, such as:
- Requiring young drivers to wear a seat belt at all times.
- Prohibiting driving after 9pm, unless supervised by an adult.
- Limiting the number of teenage passengers allowed in the vehicle.
- Prohibiting the use of a cellular phone while driving.
- Requiring the new driver to hold the provisional license for at least one year without any traffic violations before receiving an unrestricted adult license.
GDL provisions are still in their infancy in many states, so evaluating the results of these programs is difficult. However, outcomes so far are promising. The enactment of and enforcement of these laws are important steps in efforts to save the lives of young drivers.
How to Use a Teen Driving Contract
April 27, 2009
Teaching your teen to drive safely is one of your most important responsibilities as a parent, and training shouldn’t end when your teen gets a driver’s license.
The early years of driving are a dangerous time for teens. Almost 40% of all deaths for 16- to 19-year-olds occur in motor vehicle crashes; drivers in this age group are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than older drivers.
Setting and enforcing limits on your teen’s driving privileges will help keep your teen safe while reinforcing that driving is a serious matter. Be sure to set limits that comply with your state’s Graduated Driver’s Licensing laws. A Parent-Teen Driving Contract can help you ensure that your teen knows the rules in your household for getting and maintaining driving privileges and the penalties for breaking those rules.
Completing a Parent-Teen Driving Contract will be most effective if the concept and expectation are presented in advance (preferably at age 14). Make sure your teen understands that she or he will not be allowed to drive until an agreement is reached and both parties have signed the contract and initialed each term presented in it. Start a dialogue early about what the terms might include. Set aside at least thirty minutes to review the contract together before you and your teen sign it. Post the contract in a conspicuous place in your home so you and your teen can review it frequently.