Help your teen keep their eyes on the road

Eliminating distractions and setting a good example for them are key

In today’s fast-paced world we’ve become accustomed to having news and information whenever we want it. These constant updates can be detrimental — especially for teens.

The main cause of teen distracted driving is they can’t wait until they get home to look at a text message or other social media. It’s also peer pressure from friends who want an immediate answer. And, smartphones, with new programs coming out all the time, provide a continuous stream of new distractions.

On the flip side, smartphones can also help prevent distracted driving. There are many smartphone apps that can disable phones while driving. Some are built in to the phone’s operating system while others can be downloaded. One example is if a driver gets a text an automated reply is sent that the driver is on the road and will get back to the sender once they have reached their destination.

Another way to prevent distracted driving is to encourage passengers to speak up and tell their driver to put their phone down. Evidence shows that passengers in a car with a teen driver are actually the number one cause of distraction.

When talking with your teen, encourage them to speak up, and say to a friend, “Hey, that’s unsafe,” when they feel their friend is making an unsafe choice while driving — friends speaking up tends to be a better way to get through to teens to get them to understand they need to put their phone down while driving.

We work with many schools and use observational assessment data to track how many people we see that are using electronic devices while driving. We then use that data to educate through guest speakers, public service announcements, or the use of virtual reality goggles that simulate real-life scenarios, such as distracted driving.

In New Hampshire, distracted driving is one of the top three causes of traffic crashes — from fender benders to fatal events. Impairment and speed are the other top ones. Ninety-four percent of all car crashes are preventable; this is why we don’t call them accidents, we call them crashes. The top three causes of crashes are all a result of choices that drivers are making behind the wheel.

Since the Hands Free Law went into effect in New Hampshire in 2015, distracted driving crashes have decreased. This law prohibits the use of hand-held devices while driving, but allows the use of a Bluetooth device if over the age of 18. If caught using a hand-held device while driving there are substantial fines.

Distracted driving is an easy thing to think about, but focusing on driving is a constant challenge. All drivers need to stay focused while driving, and parents need to set an example for their teens. Put down your phone.

Chelsie L. Mostone is the Highway Safety Specialist at the Injury Prevention Center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

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