Distracted Driving is 100% Preventable, Here's What Parents Need To Know

Alison Sorscher
April 22, 2021

At Impact Teen Drivers, we engage, educate, and empower teens and their influencers to stop the number one killer of teens in America - car crashes, particularly those caused by reckless and distracted driving. Impact Teen Drivers focuses on changing attitudes and behaviors associated with all distractions behind the wheel, including the use of technology. It is our goal to change the culture around reckless and distracted driving choices so that they will be seen as socially unacceptable as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Attention seems to be at the center of technology spaces right now. For our mobile devices, there are applications that overlay text over a real-time view from the camera. There are apps that allow the user to set time limits for other apps and apps that claim to boost attention skills. The reality is that mobile devices are attention grabbers, and driving is a task that requires and deserves your full attention. Driving and mobile devices can be a lethal combination.

There are four primary types of distractions while driving: visual, manual, cognitive, and auditory. 

  • Visual distractions: anything that takes your eyes off the road.
  • Manual distractions: anything that takes your hand off the wheel.
  • Cognitive distractions: anything that takes your mind off the task of driving.
  • Auditory distractions: anything that interferes with the ability to hear noises from outside the vehicle.

Mobile devices can be one of these distractions, or all four. Imagine a driver, music playing loudly, looking at a message with the phone in their hand, and thinking about their reply. That is obviously a distracted driver! But there are more subtle distractions from mobile devices as well. Imagine a driver getting a notification in their work or school app. Now their eyes are down on the notifications popping up on the screen. Is it about the big project due tomorrow? Perhaps you have been one of these drivers. None of us can change the past, but we can all commit to doing things differently beginning now. We can all commit to the choice to drive distraction free.

We know that the number one influencer of teens’ driving and riding behaviors is their parents. From the time a child is forward facing in their car seat, children watch how their parents drive. Car crashes due to reckless and distracted driving are 100% preventable, and prevention starts now, no matter how old your child is. Role modeling good behaviors by setting up the GPS before turning on the car, keeping the music low, waiting until you are safely parked to return calls and texts, and avoiding other distractions will go a long way to support your children and teenagers to be respectful drivers as well. Remember, the best way to think about this is to be the driver you want your child to be.

Another thing you can do is have those hard conversations with your children early and often, like:

  • What to do if they are in a car with a distracted driver - speak up!
  • How to be an extra set of eyes and ears for the drive- passengers can be distracted AND distracting.
  • The huge responsibility it is to get behind the wheel- every driver is responsible for their own safety and the safety of all the drivers and pedestrians around them.

Not only are parents the number one influencers of teens’ driving and riding behaviors, but they are also the number one enforcers of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL). GDL is the tiered process for young drivers to gain experience behind the wheel by minimizing the highest risk situations while a new young driver safely gains experience. GDL starts with what is often called an instruction or learner’s permit, followed by an intermediate license, and finally a full license. Get to know your state’s law and adhere to it. Many states’ GDL laws prohibit any kind of electronic device use for drivers, regardless of hands-free technology or not. Remind your teen to put their phone away, and do not expect them to pick up when they are on the road.

GDL laws address young passengers and nighttime driving, two of the highest risk situations for teen drivers. Teen passengers can be one of the most significant distractions in a vehicle. Help keep your teen safe by understanding and enforcing the law of your state, even if they are not driving yet. It is important to know that GDL laws protect not only teen drivers but teen passengers as well. 50% of teens killed in car crashes were passengers being driven by another teen. GDL laws are protective –they have been proven to reduce serious injuries and fatalities for teens by up to 40%.  

Attitude and behavior change is at the core of the Impact Teen Drivers program. It is our goal to enact generational change –saving lives not only in this generation of young drivers, but in all generations to come. These big cultural changes start at the micro level: at home and in our own vehicles. We encourage all parents to put away the tech, commit to driving distraction free, and model respectful and safe choices on the road every single ride.

Impact Teen Drivers is launching a podcast for parents this month called Under Your Influence. We offer free evidence-based resources to educators, first responders, health professionals, and parents on our website. Learn more about Impact Teen Drivers by visiting us at ImpactTeenDrivers.org.

Written by

Alison Sorscher

Alison Sorscher is the Director of Operations at Impact Teen Drivers (ITD). She worked for ITD as a founding intern during her undergraduate years at UC Davis. Alison went on to earn an MA in Education with a California teaching credential, and she was an early childhood education administrator prior to rejoining ITD. To learn more about ITD, email Alison at alison@ImpactTeenDrivers.org.