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Bonnie Raffaele doesn’t want parents to suffer the loss of a child in a distracted driving accident. Here’s what you can say to your teen driver

October 20, 2016 by Steven M. Gursten

During National Teen Driver Safety Week, Bonnie, who helped enact Michigan’s teen driving law, is teaming up with our attorneys to help parents advise and protect their teen drivers


On Monday, I shared a special interview I had with Bonnie Raffaele, of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. After her 17-year-old daughter Kelsey was tragically killed in a car accident involving her cell phone, Bonnie has become a world renowned advocate for preventing distracted driving car accidents. She pushed local legislators to pass Michigan’s teen driving law, coined “Kelsey’s Law” in 2013.

During our interview, I asked Bonnie, “What advice do you give to parents of teen drivers?”

Her suggestions on how a parent can talk with children about texting and driving and distracted driving is worthwhile for every parent to hear. As an auto accident attorney in Michigan for more than two decades, and as a parent myself, I know firsthand how devastating the loss of a child can be. Car accidents are the No. 1 killer of teens. Most people don’t know that, but there are some important things we can all do to help our teen drivers avoid very preventable distracted driving car accidents.

Bonnie’s message to parents was a valuable one:

“I tell parents you have to practice, practice, practice with your teens when they’re getting their drivers licenses and when they’re in drivers ed. That is huge.

And then on the other side of things…spend every single moment that you can with your children. I’ve learned things in life. Now, if there’s something silly that everybody freaks out over, we have a different perspective on it. There’s nothing more important than your family.”

How to talk to your kids about distracted driving – and really drive the message home

Parents – you’ve guided your teen this far. Driving is a new chapter, a step toward independence for many teens. But your job isn’t over. Surveys show that teens with parents who set firm rules for driving, typically engage in less risky driving behaviors and are involved in fewer crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

But your kids can’t listen if you don’t speak with them.

I’ve written before about the importance of talking to your teen drivers about distracted driving. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at my blog posts here and here .

Here are some great talking points you can reference, too.

  • Get the facts about teen driving and share these serious statistics with your teen: Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States, ahead of all other types of injury, disease, or violence, according to the NHTSA. The organization estimates about 10% of these crashes are caused by distracted driving.
  • Know your state’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) restrictions and help enforce them: Here’s a link to Michigan’s GDL requirements and more info about Kelsey’s teen driving law.
  • Be a good role model for your teen driver with your own safe driving habits: This is most definitely not a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. You have to walk the walk. That means no using your own cell phone, speeding, drinking or being aggressive while you’re in the driver’s seat.
  • Remind your teen that driving is a privilege, not a right: You’re the parent, and can take the keys away at any time you choose, especially when you see your teen disobeying your safe driving rules and being negligent.
  • Set the rules before your teenage drivers hit the road: You can start with the NHTSA parents “5 to Drive” campaign:
    • No drinking and driving: Set a good example by not driving after drinking. Remind your teen that drinking before the age of 21 is illegal, and alcohol and driving should never mix, no matter your age.
    • Buckle up. Every trip. Every time. Everyone: Lead by example. If you wear your seat belt every time you’re in the car, your teen is more likely to follow suit.
    • Eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, all the time: Remind your teen about the dangers of texting, dialing, or using mobile apps while driving. Have them make their phone off-limits when they’re on the road. Also remember that distracted driving isn’t limited to phone use. Other passengers, audio and climate controls in the vehicle, grooming, and eating or drinking while driving are all examples of dangerous distractions.
    • Stop speeding before it stops you: Speeding is a critical issue for all drivers, especially teens. Do not exceed the speed limit and require your teen to do the same. Explain that every time your speed doubles, your stopping distance quadruples.
    • No more than one passenger at a time: With each passenger in the vehicle, your teen’s risk of a fatal crash goes up. In Michigan, “Level 2” drivers are not allowed to have more than one passenger under the age of 21 in the car — unless the individual is a member of the driver’s immediate family, or the driver is traveling to or from school or a school-sanctioned event.

Take the opportunity of Teen Driver Safety Week to talk with your teen about distracted driving car accidents

Start the conversation with your teen during Teen Driver Safety Week (this week), but continue the conversation every day throughout the year if you can. Even if it seems like they’re tuning you out, they’re listening, and your constant reminders about these powerful messages will get through.

You can also get creative. Talking is just one way to discuss safe driving. You can write your teen a letter, leave sticky note reminders in the car, or, if you are particularly brave, use social media to get your message across to your child.

Getting it in writing is also an option. You can create a parent-teen driving contract that outlines the rules and consequences for your teen driver. Hang the signed contract in a visible place as a constant reminder about the rules of the road. Here’s a blog post about asking your teen drivers to take a pledge agreeing not to drive distracted.

For more information about National Teen Driver Safety Week and the “5 to Drive” campaign, please visit www.safercar.gov/parents.

Our Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest

Yes, we are strongly urging parents to talk to their teen drivers about safe driving and especially the importance of putting down their cell phones in the car. But we also know that teens are very likely to listen to advice (God willing positive, encouraging and legal!) from their peers. That’s why we created the Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest, with Bonnie Raffaele.

The scholarship contest is designed to get teens to persuade their peers to stop using cell phones while driving. They created social messages including videos, Tweets and graphics, and then shared with their peers on social media. We just announced the awesome winners of our first annual contest last week. Click here for more info and details about applying for 2017.

Safe travels, everyone – especially to our new teen drivers.

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