Teen driver distraction: what to keep in mind

Melissa Erikson

Are teens more distracted than other drivers? There’s no data to back it up, but many people believe it to be true, said Dr. Gary Freed, a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

The results of a new study conducted at the University of Michigan reveal that parents should not only be concerned with their young drivers but with other teens who may be driving distracted. More than half of parents in the new national poll believe their teen has been in an unsafe situation riding with a teen driver.

“When teens start driving, there is rightfully a big focus on the safety of the drivers themselves. But our poll suggests that parents should play an active role in not only preparing teens to be safe drivers, but to be safety-minded passengers when riding with friends,” said Freed, co-director of the poll.

Top concerns

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health is a nationally representative report based on responses from 877 parents with at least one child ages 14 to 18. The poll asked parents to report on their attitudes and actions concerning their own teen riding in a car with other people their age.

Over 45% of parents were most concerned about loud music, which ranked just higher than cell phones (42%) and other teens in the car (39%). Speeding was also a top concern for 45% of parents, along with teens being too tired to drive safely (14%) or impaired by alcohol or drugs (5%).

For some teens driving is a common activity: 1 in 3 parents said their teens are passengers with teen drivers at least once or twice a week.

Because teens lack experience they may not be able to react as quickly to changes in road or driving conditions, Freed said. Teens may also not pay as close attention to other cars or pedestrians as needed to stay safe, he said.

Know the danger signs

Car crashes are the leading cause of death and injury for teens. More than half of teens who die in car crashes are not behind the wheel, and their chances of being in a fatal accident are much higher when there is a teen driver, according to national statistics.

Parents should talk to their kids about being responsible passengers and encourage them to be proactive.

“Speak up to stop any unsafe activities,” Freed says.

If a teen sees a friend reaching for a cellphone or fiddling with the music controls, they can offer to hold the phone or help stream music, for example.

Let teens know it’s OK to ask a driver to slow down or get out of the car and walk if they’re feeling unsafe, Freed said.

“Safe driving should be a shared responsibility for both teen drivers and passengers, as the risks are high for each,” Freed said.