Sharing Not Scaring - Focus on Communicating Safe, Smart Behavior during National Teen Driver Safety Week

A recent study shows that that 75 percent of serious teen driver crashes are due to three critical errors: 1) lack of scanning the roadway 2) driving too fast and the subsequent inability to respond/navigate curves successfully 3) distracted driving.

The third error, distracted driving, has increased significantly in recent years given the popularity and widespread use of mobile devices. Despite an increased awareness of the dangers, as well as recently enacted bans on texting while driving in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and many other states, 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to be distracted at the time of a crash. This age group had the largest proportion of distracted drivers.

Distractions are numerous – fiddling with an iPod converter or radio, using Google Maps or other websites from a smartphone, and of course using a phone for calls, emails and texts. These technological distractions are compounded by having passengers in the car and engaging in activities like eating and drinking. Given these distractions, much still needs to be done to keep young drivers safe – starting with increased communication outside the vehicle.

In its 6th year, National Teen Driver Safety Week (NTDSW), October 14-20, is a great time to talk openly with your children about their driving habits, as well as make family commitments for the year ahead. While the aforementioned crash statistics are indeed frightening, the NTDSW 2012 theme is ‘Share, Not Scare’. Pointing to research that “scared straight tactics do not change behavior over the long haul”, the theme focuses on communicating safe driving techniques, as well as motivating positive behaviors like buckling up every time you enter a car.

While safe driving should be a focus throughout the year, here are three commitments to share with your teen during NTDSW:

  • Turn it off. Turn off your cell phone in the car, and use a hands-free GPS whenever possible. Ask passengers to keep phone use to a minimum.
  • Music rules. While driving, keep one radio station on at all times until parked. If a teen has an iPod in the car, recommend putting on one album or playlist for the entire ride. And if bad weather creates poor driving conditions, turn the music off completely.
  • Increase comfort levels. Practice with your teen to see if they can adjust the high beam lights, heat or defrosting settings without taking their eyes off the road – and also point out when to use those tools! Knowing where controls are located in the car is just as important as knowing where to find the brake.

The best example you could give your teen driver is committing to the three points above, practicing excellent driving techniques each time you are in the car. According to a 2011 study by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, teens with supportive parents are twice as likely to wear seatbelts, 30% less likely to use a cell phone, and 70% less likely to drive under the influence of alcohol. Teens whose parents set rules for them about driving and are involved through the early stages of learning to drive are half as likely to have a car accident. Demonstrate your mutual responsibility and commitment to safer roads by reviewing and signing the “The Safety Pledge” contract with your teen this week.

~ George Murphy, Safety Insurance