Columbus Ohio In attorney David A. Bressman's continuing series on teen driving, dangers and distractions, an alarming study, published in 2007 provides evidence that driving distractions are becoming as prevalent as drinking and driving in terms of inhibiting teens' driving abilities.
According to teen driving research by SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) and Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, instant and text messaging while driving leads the list as the biggest distraction while driving for teens.
In a national survey of more than 900 teens with driver's licenses from 26 high schools, teens rated the following behaviors or activities as "extremely" or "very" distracting:
- Instant or text messaging while driving - 37 percent
- [The teen driver's] emotional state - 20 percent
- Having several friends in the car - 19 percent
- Talking on a cell phone - 14 percent
- Eating or drinking - 7 percent
- Having a friend in the car - 5 percent
- Listening to music - 4 percent
SADD and Liberty Mutual have collaborated on seven years of research on teens' attitudes, behaviors, and decision-making behind the wheel. Study results include data on cell phone use while driving, alcohol and drug use, seat belt use, and speeding, as well as comparative data between teens and parents.
SADD Chairman and CEO Stephen Wallace and SADD Executive Director Penny Wells are available to further discuss study results, including texting while driving and teen behavior in general behind the wheel.
What Can Concerned Parents Do?
While most states have adopted or are adopting legislation around teen driving, the restrictions of teen driving laws vary from state to state. Based on the extensive research over the past seven years, SADD and Liberty Mutual have set forth the following all-encompassing recommendations for concerned parents of teenagers.
- Know your state's Graduated Driver License laws and restrictions, including unsupervised driving, time of day, and passengers in the car, and enforce them. The Governors Highway Safety Association provides a description of each state's laws at www.statehighwaysafety.org.
- Set family rules about driving and outline clear consequences for breaking the rules. Liberty Mutual and SADD suggest some rules if they are not covered by your state laws:
- No use of alcohol or other drugs
- No cell phone use, including text messaging
- Limit or restrict friends in the car without an adult
- No driving after 10 p.m.
- Keep two hands on the wheel - No distractions while driving, including eating, changing CDs, handling iPods, and putting on makeup
- Enforce consequences if a family rule is broken . The SADD/Liberty Mutual studies show that parental enforcement bolsters safe driving habits. More than half (52 percent) of teens who say their parents are unlikely to follow through on a consequence if they break a driving law report they talk on a cell phone while driving, compared to only 36 percent of teens who believe their parents would indeed penalize them.
- Do as you say . Exhibit behaviors in the car that you would like your teen to emulate. And, don't engage in behaviors you have established as off limits for your teen. While young people say overwhelmingly their parents are or will be the biggest influence on how they drive, almost two thirds (62 percent) of high school teens say their parents talk on a cell phone while driving; almost half (48 percent) say their parents speed; and almost a third (31 percent) say their parents don't wear a safety belt.
- Sign a teen driving contract. SADD's Contract for Life can be found at http://www.sadd.org/contract.htm.