Distracted driving occurs any time a driver takes their eyes off the road, the hands off the wheel and the mind off the primary task of driving. Inattention occurs when a driver’s attention drifts away from driving without having been influenced by an activity (i.e., mental and emotional).
Approximately 5,500 people are killed each year on U.S. roadways and an estimated 448,000 are injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted driving. Teen drivers are more likely than other age groups to be involved in a fatal crash where distraction is reported. Research indicates that the burden of talking on a cell phone — even if it’s hands-free — saps the brain of 39 percent of the energy it would ordinarily devote to safe driving. Drivers who use a hand-held device are more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury. Drivers need to focus their attention on the driving task, but there are many ways in today’s driving environment for drivers to become distracted.
Avoid phone use
Glancing away from the road for more than a second — for any reason — can be extremely dangerous. At 55 mph, during a three-second glance at a cell phone, messaging device or instrument panel, a vehicle moves nearly 250 feet — almost the length of a football field.
In the rush to be on time or get ahead of traffic congestion, don’t allow your teen to make the sometimes-fatal mistake of attempting to multi-task behind the wheel. Remember that far too many drivers might also be driving distracted. As a parent, you know one of the most dangerous and tempting distractions to teen drivers are cell phones. About 1.2 million car crashes in 2013 involved drivers talking on phones, according to the National Safety Council, and at least 341,000 involved text messaging.
Lead by example
According to recent CHOP research, teen drivers receive the most calls from their parents, more than general calling patterns would suggest. According to other recent CHOP research, even though teens recognize that talking or texting on a cell phone or using social media apps while driving is unsafe, they often engage in these behaviors anyway while driving.
Parents need to model safe driving behaviors by not using their cell phones while driving (including at stoplights) and to set a zero-tolerance policy for their teens’ cell phone use while driving. You should help your teens by giving them the following safe alternatives to talking or texting while driving: complete any call or text before starting the car; get directions and try to visualize the destination before turning the key; turn off your phone while driving and place your phone in a purse, glovebox or backseat so it is out of reach; check in with friends or parents only after arrival; and pull over for urgent calls.
Allen Robinson, Ph.D., CEO, American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association (ADTSEA), [email protected]