Talk to Your Teen About Distracted Driving

Important Tips for a Tough Discussion With Your Teen Drivers

You tell your teenager not to text and drive. You tell them not to chat on the phone while driving, to keep their eyes on the road, not to play with dials on the dash. But you know your teen has “selective” hearing. You’ve been a first-hand witness to how some of your instructions or requests go “in one ear and out the other.” You also have your teen’s innate (but faulty!) sense of “invincibility” working against you.

So when you’re talking to your teen driver about something really important, something that may save their life—something like distracted driving—how do you make sure they understand the gravity of the situation?

  1. Schedule the discussion. Do it someplace quiet, like their bedroom or your bedroom. Don’t do it over dinner or in a restaurant, and make sure there are no cell phones, music, or TV to dilute their attention. This kind of formality may help communicate how serious you consider this discussion.
  2. Arm them with statistics, but also…
  3. Make it personal. If your teen seems unfazed by the possibility of death or serious injury, remind them of someone they know who has been in a serious car accident and how steep the consequences were. Or mention their friends, specifically the ones that you’ve seen engage in distracted driving behavior, or the ones who seem easily distractible. Try to do this in a way that doesn’t appear to be criticizing their friend (“I love how energetic so-and-so is. I love how much they like to be part of every conversation and not miss anything. However, if they’re driving a bunch of friends, their desire to focus on the conversation might keep them from focusing on the road. And if a driver looks away for one second—even to say something to someone in the passenger seat—that’s enough time to have a lethal crash.”)
  4. Offer non-judgemental advice. Mention to your teen that they may want to offer to hold the driver’s phone for them, and that they can respond to any texts their driving friend may receive. Likewise, they may want to offer to pass their phone to the passenger while they’re driving. It may even be helpful to model this behavior with your teen. When you’re the driver, pass your phone to your teen.
  5. Be dependable. Make sure your teen knows that they can always call you to pick them up, rather than get in a car with a driver who frightens them (whether that driver is drunk or simply reckless). Let your teen know that you’d rather they call you than ride with an unsafe driver — no matter what. This includes if they’ve been drinking or if they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be. Make sure they know that they won’t be punished for doing the right thing, even if the right thing follows the wrong thing.
  6. Listen, don’t lecture. Ask your teen about their own and their friends’ habits while driving. If they’ve been involved in an accident, ask them to recount it now that you’re no longer emotional about it. Ask if they think it could have been prevented. If they haven’t been involved in an accident, ask them to tell you about the closest call they’ve had, or if they were ever in the car when a friend was driving and narrowly missed a crash. No matter what, remain calm. Don’t yell or get visibly upset in a way that may make your teen defensive. Thank them for being open. Ask them what the experience was like and if they learned anything. When teens feel like they’ve reached a conclusion or decision on their own, that conclusion has much more real-world staying power for them.
  7. Share your stories. Tell your teen about distracted driving accidents you’ve had and how you wish you’d handled the situation. Maybe you glanced down to your cup-holder at your ringing phone to see what the caller ID said, and that was all the time it took for you to rear-end the person in front of you. Maybe, from then on, you put your phone on silent while driving—especially during times of heavy traffic. Be honest about your failures and how they’ve led you to modify your thinking and behaviors.
  8. Make sure your teen knows that many behaviors qualify as distracted driving and that the term means much more than just texting while driving.
  9. Talk to your teen about apps that may help them break bad driving habits. Let them decide which of these to install on their phone. We cover these apps in a previous post.

About Those Statistics…

Per the Arkansas State Police, between the years of 2007-2014, Arkansas averaged over 62,000 accidents annually, resulting in about 580 deaths a year. About 30% of these deaths are related to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. About 24% of Arkansas crashes result in injuries, and about 8% of those injuries were serious and debilitating.

Tell your teen about distracted driving accidents you’ve had and how you wish you’d handled the situation.

Nationwide, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 10% of all fatal crashes and 18% of crashes involving injuries are caused by distracted driving. In 2016, that translated to 3,450 deaths. In 2015, 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes. 15 to 19-year-old drivers are statistically more likely to be involved in distracted driving accidents than older drivers.

Arkansas Law For Distracted Driving

In the state of Arkansas, it is illegal to use hand-held phones in work zones or school zones, and drivers aged 18-20 are not allowed to use hand-held phones while driving at all. Drivers under 18 aren’t allowed to use cell phones while driving, even with hands-free options. Texting while driving is illegal for all drivers, with first offenses costing from $100-250, and second offenses costing up to $500.

Properly Insure Your Teen Driver

If you want to make sure the teen driver in your family has adequate car insurance coverage, contact an agent today.