Distracted Driving & More

Drivers Icon Teaching Your Teen to Drive

Distracted driving involves any activity, such as cell phone use, that has the potential to distract someone from the task of driving. Distracted driving, alcohol, speeding, and not wearing seat belts can lead to death and injury in crashes. Teens, who are still learning the complex skills of driving, are particularly susceptible to distractions while behind the wheel. Don’t let you or your teen become another statistic. Here are the facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Mile for mile, teens are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. And one in three teens who text say they have done so while driving.
  • Between 2013 and 2017 in Iowa, 5,025 crashes were caused by distracted driving (including 38 fatal and 729 injury crashes). During that same time period, drivers aged 14-20 made up only 9.6 percent of the population, but accounted for nearly 36 percent of the distracted driving crashes.
  • In 2016 across the United States, 3,450 people were killed in a distraction-related crash, which is slightly lower than the fatalities in 2015, but still nearly 10 percent higher than in 2013. In 2015, an estimated 391,000 people were injured nationwide in crashes involving a distracted driver.
  • A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study revealed that physically dialing a phone while driving increases the risk of a crash as much as six times. Texting is riskier still, increasing collision risk by 23 times.
  • A recent AAA study shows that when a teen driver is carrying teen passengers, the fatality rate for occupants of other cars increases 56 percent; for pedestrians and cyclists it increases 17 percent; and for the teen driver, the fatality rate increases 45 percent.

There are three kinds of distractions:

  • Visual — doing something that requires the driver to look away from the driving task.
  • Manual — doing something that requires the driver to take one or both hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive — doing something that causes the driver’s mind to wander or focus elsewhere.

To combat this growing epidemic, we suggest the following:

  • Set a good example: Kids observe and learn from their parents. Put your phone away while driving and only use it when you are safely pulled over. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of teens aged 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves and others in danger.
  • Talk to your teen: Discuss the risks and responsibilities of driving and the danger of dividing their attention between a phone call and the road. Show them the statistics related to distracted driving and urge them to share what they learn with their friends. Encourage them to speak up if they are a passenger in a car with a distracted driver.
  • Establish ground rules: Set up family rules about not using the phone or other electronic devices while behind the wheel. All electronic communication is prohibited for teens with an Instruction Permit or Intermediate License in Iowa.
  • Sign a pledge: Have your teen take action by agreeing to a family contract about wearing safety belts, not speeding, not driving after drinking, and not using a cell phone behind the wheel. Agree on penalties for violating the pledge, including paying for tickets or loss of driving privileges.
  • Other dangerous distractions: In addition to cell phone use, distracted driving can include eating, grooming, drinking, listening to or adjusting the radio or MP3 player, using the GPS, talking to passengers, or watching a video, just to name a few activities. Inexperienced drivers are particularly susceptible to these kinds of distractions.

Drugged driving

As more and more states legalize marijuana, it’s important to remember that it’s illegal for everyone under 21. And just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe. Laws for operating under the influence of alcohol also apply to drugs. Almost any drug can affect your driving skills, including illegal drugs, prescription medicine, and even over-the-counter medicine. Smoking or ingesting marijuana makes it more difficult to respond to sights and sounds. This makes you dangerous as a driver; it lowers your ability to handle a quick series of tasks. The most serious problems occur when facing an unexpected event, such as a car coming out from a side street or a child running out between parked cars. These challenges get worse after dark, because marijuana can also limit night vision.

Eyes on the road

Teens tend to look away from the road and become distracted for longer periods than older drivers. It’s important to train them to keep their eyes on the road ahead. While parked, test your teen on how long they look away when doing various tasks inside the vehicle, such as tuning the radio. Coach them repeatedly on the importance of focusing on the road ahead.