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 3 times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. And 1 in 3 teens who text say they have done so while driving.
  • In 2015, 3,477 people were killed and an estimated 391,000 people were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver. That’s a 10.2 percent increase from the estimated 3,154 killed in 2013.
  • A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study revealed that physically dialing a phone while driving increases the risk of a crash as much as 6 times. Texting is riskier still, increasing collision risk by 23 times.

To combat this growing epidemic, we suggest the following:

  • Set a good example: Kids observe and learn from their parents. Put your phone down while driving and only use it when you are safely pulled over. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of teens, ages 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 and the road. Show them the statistics related to distracted driving and urge them to share what they learn with their friends.
  • Establish ground rules: Set up family rules about not using the phone while behind the wheel. Enforce the limits set by the graduated driver licensing program (GDL).
  • 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, 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. Wearing both earbuds while driving is also dangerous, as well as illegal. Earbuds can distract a driver and diminish their ability to hear emergency vehicles and other audio safety signals. One earbud is allowed, but not both.

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. Illegal drugs, prescription medicines, and over-the-counter medicines can all make it dangerous to drive. Smoking or eating marijuana makes it more difficult to respond to sights and sounds. This makes you dangerous as a driver because 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 from a side street or a child running out from between parked cars. These problems get worse after dark, because marijuana also causes decreased visibility at night.

Massachusetts law has decriminalized certain aspects of possession and/or use of marijuana. However, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana is still illegal and remains a criminal offense.

  • It is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana.
  • It is illegal to use marijuana under the age of 21.
  • Marijuana can negatively impact your ability to safely control a vehicle.
  • Marijuana will slow your reaction time and impair your judgment.
  • Marijuana effects your coordination, your memory, and ability to problem-solve.
  • Combining marijuana and alcohol, even in small doses, greatly increases the risk of getting into a crash.

If you plan to drive, be smart and have no alcohol, marijuana, or any other drugs in your system.

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. Test your teen on how long they look away when doing various tasks inside the vehicle, such as adjusting the temperature. Coach them repeatedly on the importance of focusing on the road ahead.