Distracted teen driving

Safe teen driving

If the idea of talking to your son or daughter about distracted driving has you rolling your eyes (and your teen responding in kind), we get it. But as with any important talk you have with your kids, it resonates more than you know.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2020, 3,142 people were killed in distracted-driving accidents.

The best thing you can do to protect your kids is to talk to them. And only you can model how to be safe and confident. Learn the facts (and some helpful tips) about how to help keep your teen safe after they pull out of the driveway.

Distracted teen drivers

All that stands between your teenager and a catastrophic car crash is 3 seconds. It takes:

  1. One second to scan for and detect threats.
  2. One second to recognize what the threat demands.
  3. One second to decide how to respond to avoid or lessen the severity of the impact.

While there are many ill-advised behaviors that contribute to car accidents, texting is especially dangerous because it combines the trifecta of distractions that effectively waste those 3 vital seconds.

  • Visual: Taking your eyes off the road
  • Manual: Taking your hands off the steering wheel
  • Cognitive: Taking your mind off driving

Texting and driving can get the brunt of the blame for car accidents involving teens — and it definitely contributes. In 2018, drivers 15 to 19 years old comprised 17 percent of distracted driving crashes involving cell phones, according to NHTSA. But there’s a long list of other distractions that can turn a trip to the mall into a nightmare for a group of teens.

Parents set an example for teen drivers

Here are some ideas to get your teens thinking about the task, not the text.

Lead by example.

Texting and driving statistics from 2019 revealed that 39 percent of high school students who drove in the past 30 days had texted or emailed while driving on at least one of those days.

When you’re driving and your teen is a passenger, put your phone away and out of reach and request that your child do the same. No matter what they say, kids model their parents' behavior. If they see you texting or multitasking behind the wheel, they’re more likely to take the same risks.

Don't text them while they're driving.

Discouraging your child from traveling without a phone isn’t a great idea. Emergencies happen, and it’s important that your teenager can get ahold of you. But don't get angry if they don’t respond to a text or a call right away.

Use teen driver safety resources.

The NHTSA offers a library of resources for teens and their parents to learn about the dangers of distracted driving, including videos, safety pledges, quizzes, and statistics.

Safe driving rules for teens

Here are some distracted driving rules you can discuss with your teen drivers.

Teen drivers should...

Wait to get home to eat.

Sifting through a fast-food bag in search of that last French fry while sailing through traffic is an obvious distraction. Encourage teens to wait to get home or to eat while parked.

Resist distractions while driving.

It’s natural to want to know what’s going on when passing a pulled-over car or an accident. But rubbernecking is one way your teen driver may become the distraction — by rear-ending another driver or driving off the road altogether.

Limit passengers when they drive.

Teens love to travel in packs and are known to overcrowd vehicles, often leaving passengers without seatbelts. Consider a passenger limit in your teen’s vehicle to limit distractions and minimize danger. The crash risk doubles when teens drive one peer passenger and triples with two or more teen passengers, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute. 

Teen drivers should not...

Drive while impaired.

Be kind but firm when discussing alcohol and drug use with your teen, especially when it comes to operating a vehicle. Make sure they know they can call you — without judgment or punishment — if they’re faced with a situation that could result in a DUI or deadly crash. And encourage your child to take a pledge to not drive under the influence.

Show off while driving.

Drag racing or blowing through stoplights and signs can come at a much higher price than just a speeding ticket. Don’t hesitate to revoke driving privileges if your teen is in an at-fault accident or is caught behaving badly at the wheel.

Drive drowsy.

Teens are inexperienced behind the wheel and falling asleep while driving is definitely a thing. Add the limited visibility of nighttime or pre-dawn driving and possible drowsiness — driving teammates home from a late night practice, for example — and you’ve got a potentially lethal mix. Make sure your teen knows he or she needs to have the car back in the garage no later than 9 p.m. and offer the group a ride if you know they’ll be out later. Many states have teen driver curfews set by law, which means you can make the state the bad guy in that conversation.

The information included here was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice or other advice.

Updated 3/23