Teen Driving and Smartphones

Parents’ jobs shift as our kids age; developmental stages pass, and our parental responsibilities become easier in some senses (no more temper tantrums!) yet more challenging in others (teen driving, “the talk,” etc).  All we can do is our best, and give teenagers the freedom to make and learn from their own mistakes. In terms of teen driving, though, mistakes can have incredibly devastating, life changing consequences. The seriousness of safety behind the wheel can not be overstated.

Now, the dangers of using smartphones while driving isn’t news. It’s common sense, really; even a few moments’ distraction can be enough to get in a car accident. Teenagers hear this over and over while learning how to drive, but a 2016 study run by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students against Destructive Decisions) found that 27% of teens still text and drive, and 68% — a huge percentage — of teens use apps while driving. Distraction is distraction, people, whether it’s texting, mapping out directions, snap chatting, or whatever other new app is around the corner and about to take the teen group consciousness by storm.

Teen driving safety means putting away the smartphone

My daughter has been a teen driving for just over a year now, and in this time, she has been rear ended twice by young drivers texting and driving. Both were just bumps, and no one was hurt, but it’s enough for a fretful mother of a new driver to want to shut down Los Angeles’s freeway system until drivers finally quit texting and driving. Because, yes, while we can’t prove it, we both strongly suspect that both times, the drivers behind her were texting and driving. One thing I know for certain, though, is that my own teen was not texting and driving. Our deal is, she puts her phone in her purse, or on silent mode, while she’s driving the car.

Teen driving safely

Research scientists at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety studying teen driving understand how challenging it can be to have detailed, important talks with sometimes reticent adolescents. Keeping conversations open and honest helps encourage responsible driving among teenagers. The researchers at Liberty Mutual have a few teen driving tips for nervous parents:

1. Hide the phone. 73% of teenagers admit to keeping their smartphones within easy reach while driving alone. Ask teens to keep their phones out of reach and on silent so they’re less tempted to check incoming app notifications and more likely to keep their eyes on the road. My two cents: The temptation to do a quick check of texts and app notifications is very strong. Teenagers will be much more like to keep their eyes and attention on the road if they can’t easily reach their phones.

2. Map it out. 42% of teens say they text while driving to get directions or find out how to get somewhere. My two cents: Google Maps, Waze, and other driving apps are eminently useful; I use Maps and Waze a lot myself (driving in Los Angeles during rush hour could be its own designation of a driving hazard) but I know to pull over before grabbing my phone and opening an app. Teen drivers must understand that hiding their phones does not preclude using apps for driving directions.

3. Set expectations.  Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD encourage parents and teens to use the Teen Driving Contract as a conversation starter and discussion guide. This tool covers important safety issues and is an easy roadmap for parents and teens alike to uphold family driving rules.My two cents: Yes, I know, teenagers roll their eyes when we talk, talk, talk about being responsible drivers. But those conversations are important; be blunt if need be. Liberty Mutual Insurance has a Teen Driving Contact that can serve as a conversation starter, and signing it legitimizes the responsibility teens must take as drivers.

For more suggestions and information about family driving rules and teenagers, visit www.libertymutual.com/teendriving — there’s a lot of great stuff about teen driving, and more, there!

Raising adolescents isn’t as time-intensive as raising toddlers, and usually involves a lot less sleep deprivation (school dance and party nights excepted). As the kids in our families grow up, the rules change. Family driving rules are among the most important rules parents can help install in each of our family’s cultures. The best thing we as parents can do for our teen drivers is to help them be safe drivers.

Disclosure: The Vacation Gals travel blog is a paid member of the Liberty Mutual Ambassador Program.