April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month: Four Hazards To Discuss With Your Teen

Male teenager showcasing distracted driving by looking at his cell phone.

April is recognized as Distracted Driving Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and encourage safe driving practices. While distracted driving can impact anyone on the road, teenage drivers are particularly vulnerable to its risks, finds the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As we increasingly rely on technology for everything from cueing up our music to navigating our route, it’s more important to educate young drivers on the dangers of distracted driving and provide them with the necessary tools to stay safe on the road. The consequences are clear: According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA), distracted driving claimed more than 3,000 lives in 2020, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

 The NHTSA defines “distracted driving” as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.” Read on for four common distractions for teenage drivers and some tips to help avoid them. (As a parent, you might take away a few lessons, too). 

1. Cell phones and other electronic devices

We all know it’s wrong, and yet, many of us use our cell phones while driving. Maybe it’s just one quick “OMW!” text to the friend you’re meeting at the restaurant, a glance to double-check directions in your mapping app, or a swipe to choose a different playlist.

 A survey from the National Safety Council found that four in five people admit to using their phone, either in hand or hands-free, while driving. But taking your eyes off the road for even five seconds —  the average time it takes to send a short text or to dial a number — means that your car will have traveled the length of a football field while you weren’t paying attention.

 Manage the distraction:

  • Remove the temptation. While the only true way to avoid distraction is to turn your phone off or hide it in the trunk where it’s inaccessible, that’s probably not realistic.  A more practical way to avoid that distracting alert is to make it harder for your teen to use their phone to communicate. Have them silence notifications or set up their phone to automatically go into a “do not disturb” mode while driving. You can find instructions for Apple’s “Driving Focus” here and Android’s Driving Mode here, which will silence or limit notifications when the phone senses driving motion. Your cell phone carrier might have other apps or techniques it offers. 
  • Enlist your passengers as co-pilots to act as DJs, navigators, and message takers/senders.
  • When you’re driving alone, pull off to a safe place to reroute your map, send that text, or take a call rather than doing it while driving.

2. Passengers

Passengers can be helpful (as mentioned above), but they can also contribute to distracted driving. One poll conducted by the University of Michigan found that nearly 40% of parents were concerned about other teens in the car. It’s easy to see why — teens may have a propensity to pump their music, get involved in a conversation, or even show off with risky driving maneuvers when someone else is in the car.

Manage the distraction:

  • Limit passengers as needed. Most states have laws prohibiting new drivers from driving another person, which further illustrates that they are a well-known hazard. Check this chart to see what restrictions your state has for novice drivers and consider having similar family rules even after the state law expires, depending on what makes sense.   
  • Sometimes teens will need or want to drive with others, like when they’re carpooling to a school event or are just out on a Friday night. Be sure to talk to them about what types of actions could be distracting and assess whether certain friends seem to be particularly problematic.
  • Remind them of the importance of being a good passenger when they are in a friend’s car by offering to handle the music or directions, or reminding them to keep their eyes on the road.
  • In some cases, there might be teens your child shouldn’t ride with. Ask them frequently to describe in-car behavior and take any concerns seriously.

3. Eating and drinking

This doesn’t seem particularly distracting — until the lid falls off your soda (or worse, your hot coffee) or you spill something on your white shirt. Aside from these potential food snafus, you’ll likely need to take your eyes off the road (and your hands off the wheel) to grab drinks or food items.

Even if you’re stopped at a stoplight, it’s easy for your foot to slip off the brake pedal and roll into the car ahead of you.

Manage the distraction:

  • This is easy: remind your teens to eat before they leave or wait until they arrive. (And as a bonus, it helps keep your car a little cleaner, too.)

4. Daydreaming

It’s easy to get lost in thought when you’re driving, and teens have a lot on their minds: They might have had an argument with a friend, be stressed about an upcoming test, or are thinking about something they saw on social media.

The problem can present itself whether they are driving a familiar route close to home or are on the open highway on a road trip.

Manage the distraction:

  • Encourage teens to get adequate sleep, which otherwise can hamper their focus. And if they do feel tired while driving, suggest they pull off somewhere well-lighted and safe to take a break, have a snack, or choose listening material that will energize them.
  • Advise them of the dangers of daydreaming and give them tips to keep their focus, like keeping their eyes moving and changing their gaze frequently.
  • Remind them to listen to music or a podcast if it keeps them mentally engaged — as long as the playlist or episode is cued up before they hit the road.

 We often work with our teens on driving skills, yet overlook the importance of discussing lesser-known activities that can lead to distracted driving. Talking to your child about why it’s important to stay alert on the road is one more reminder to add to your list.

 One thing you don’t want to be distracted by is wondering if your car insurance is adequate. Matic can be your co-pilot, making it easy to compare top-rated insurance policies. Start here to get a quote today.

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