Drive away dis­trac­tions to pro­tect teens be­hind the wheel

The Calvert Recorder - Southern Maryland Automotive Trends - - News - Brand­point

To­day’s teens face more dis­trac­tions than any gen­er­a­tion be­fore.

Many don’t re­call a time when they were not con­tin­u­ously con­nected to their friends. Cell phones — which might have been pro­vided as a safety pre­cau­tion in case Mom or Dad was run­ning late pick­ing them up from school — are now the source of con­stant mes­sag­ing, shar­ing and me­dia con­sump­tion.

Teens send texts in­stead of pass­ing notes in class. They share mo­ments with their peers and the world in the form of pho­tos and short videos. Mu­sic, food and trans­porta­tion can ar­rive on de­mand, all with the swipe of a fin­ger. Be­ing away from their phones, even for a short pe­riod of time, can even cause a form of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety ex­pressed in the acro­nym FOMO (fear of miss­ing out).

So it should come as no sur­prise that cell phone use is the of­fense most com­monly as­so­ci­ated with dis­tracted driv­ing. How­ever, it’s not the only type of dis­trac­tion.

“A lot of peo­ple think they’re bet­ter drivers than they ac­tu­ally are, which is why they take un­nec­es­sary risks when they’re be­hind the wheel,” said Randy Petro, chief claims of­fi­cer for Mer­cury In­sur­ance. “We see a lot of claims re­lated to dis­tracted driv­ing, in­clud­ing par­ents turn­ing to scold ar­gu­ing chil­dren, ad­just­ing the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, and even tak­ing pho­tos while driv­ing. Your first pri­or­ity once you start pi­lot­ing any ve­hi­cle should be to fo­cus on the task at hand — driv­ing.”

Ten per­cent of all drivers ages 15 to 19 who were in­volved in fa­tal crashes were dis­tracted at the time of the crashes, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NHTSA). NHTSA also re­ports that 660,000 peo­ple drive dis­tracted ev­ery day.

Teens aren’t the only ones who feel the need to be con­nected — adults are guilty of it, too.

Many of the teens who are glued to their smart­phones have wit­nessed their par­ents an­swer­ing emails at the din­ner ta­ble or have seen them shoot a “quick text” while driv- ing. Teens have grown up learn­ing that this type of be­hav­ior is ac­cept­able and maybe even ex­pected. How­ever, there’s a right time and a right place for ev­ery­thing.

“The first thing par­ents need to do is prac­tice what they preach. Teenagers won’t always be re­cep­tive to ‘be­cause I say so’ or ‘be­cause I’m the adult,’ espe- cially if they wit­ness their par­ents ac­tively en­gag­ing in a be­hav­ior they’re be­ing told is bad,” added Petro. “We as adults need to set a proper ex­am­ple — af­ter all, we do have the ad­van­tage of more life ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Par­ents should set a pow­er­ful ex­am­ple by com­mit­ting not to drive dis­tracted if they want their chil­dren to do the same. If nec­es­sary, par­ents can also in­vest in tech­nol­ogy to mon­i­tor and dis­able phones while their teens are driv­ing to elim­i­nate the temp­ta­tion al­to­gether.

“No In­sta­gram post, bite of a burger or playlist se­lec­tion is worth some­one else’s life. Peo­ple are mainly in a car to get from point A to point B, and our wish is for them to do it safely,” said Petro.

There are sev­eral ex­cel­lent on­line re­sources that pro­vide tips and in­for­ma­tion to help pre­pare teens for life be­hind the wheel, in­clud­ing Mer­cury In­sur­ance’s Drive Safe Chal­lenge and NHTSA’s Dis­trac­tion.gov.

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