Parents & Distracted Driving
Watching your kids grow up is an experience all in itself. From first words to first steps, first days at school to their first high school dance, the milestones you'll encounter are nothing short of special.
However, the first time your kids get behind the wheel might feel a little less magical and a little more terrifying. You know what people can be like on the road, and you also know about all the potential distractions your teen driver will have to deal with on a daily basis.
If you're worried, it's normal, even beneficial. Being aware of the risks associated with distracted driving will help you determine how to best prevent your child from engaging in it.
Know the Types of Distractions
Driving distractions are not limited to cellphone use. All types of dangerous distractions are categorized into three different types:
Cognitive distractions are those causing you to take your mind off of driving (including emotional distractions). Some examples include:
- Arguing with passengers.
- Thinking about a distressing event.
- Driving away from a heated argument.
- Leaving from a stressful day at work.
Visual distractions are those causing you to take your eyes off of the road. Some examples include:
- Looking at your GPS.
- Checking on your kids in the back seat.
- Staring at an accident (“rubbernecking”).
Manual distractions are those causing you to take your hands off of the wheel. Some examples include:
- Putting on makeup.
- Eating or drinking.
- Adjusting the temperature/radio controls.
Cell Phones & Driving
In this day and age, cell phones have practically become an extension of our bodies. Having grown so used to constantly having a cell phone in hand can make putting them down once you're in the car more difficult than it seems.
Texting and/or calling while driving has become a widespread but preventable epidemic that takes lives and inflicts harm. It's a habit we need to break—fast.
Each year, distracted driving injures and kills hundreds of thousands of people (due primarily to cell phone use). Additionally, most people who choose to engage in driving distractions are those who are new to driving.
Most state governments have already taken the initiative of passing laws to prevent people (especially newer drivers) from using their cell phone while driving.
It's important to discuss the dangers of distracted driving with your kids, many of whom do not realize the seriousness of the consequences.
Start the Conversation
Talking to your teenager about anything can be a difficult task, let alone the rules of the road. You should iterate the importance of being completely focused while driving, since just seconds of a distraction could mean a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Remind them that driving is a privilege, not a right, and other drivers deserve their respect and full attention on the road.
Lead by Example
As a parent, you have the biggest influence on your child's life. If they see you driving while distracted, then they will assume that it's okay for them to do as well. Before starting the car, you should:
- Respond to any texts or calls that need answering.
- Make sure your kids are buckled in correctly.
- Determine the correct address and route on your GPS.
- Finish whatever you're eating/drinking.
- Finish doing your makeup.
- Choose the music and temperature you want for the drive.
- Make sure you are in good state of mind to drive.
Keeping your full attention on driving will ensure you and your children's safety, now and when they too begin driving. For more tips, visit our guide to driving distraction-free.
Confront the Consequences
It can be difficult to fully grasp the seriousness of distracted driving without real examples to go off of. The U.S. Department of Transportation has an entire page dedicated to distracted driving stories, sharing true tales and lessons learned from distracted driving accidents.
Consider sitting down with your kids and reading a few of the testimonials*; seeing the real consequences of distracted driving can leave a long-lasting impact.
* NOTE: The video testimonials are true and detailed accounts; some parts may be graphic or upsetting to some viewers.
Establish Ground Rules
It's okay, even necessary, to be stern with your kids about driving. Every time they get behind the wheel, they are putting their lives—and those of others—at risk.
Write Up a Contract
Consider signing a distraction-free driving contract. Outline the specific rules you expect your kids to follow, and the consequences they'll face should they break those rules.
For example, if you catch them using their cell phone while driving, the punishment could be to take their phone away for a week. Or maybe if they're caught speeding, they lose their driving privileges for a month.
Make the rules and punishments as clear (and fair) as possible. Having a contract provides your kids with a good balance of both freedom and responsibility.
Download a Distracted Driving App
Another option you have is to require your kids to download apps meant to prevent distracted driving. There are several options for you to choose from featuring helpful features that:
- Block text messages from being received or sent.
- Block phone calls.
- Track of the amount of miles driven without driving distractions.
- Send you (the parent) notifications of your child's driving status.
- Reward your child for driving safely (with cash and other prizes).
These apps work with most smart phones and make distraction-free driving a rewarding experience.
Take the Pledge
Finally, something that both you and your children can do is take the pledge against distracted driving. This also serves as a way to spread the word about distracted driving, making the roads safer for everyone.
Remember that just a few seconds of driving while distracted can lead to a lifetime of pain. Educate your kids on the dangers and solutions to this growing problem.
Break the habit, save a life.