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Cellphones not sole driving distractions for teen drivers

May 27, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

Eating, playing with radio, putting on makeup & other teens in car all count as driving distractions. Global Youth Traffic Safety Month campaigns to curb them

Driving distractions teen applying makeup

Statistically, teens are terrible drivers. They are more likely than any other age group to be involved in a motor vehicle accident. As a tragic result, car accidents are the No. 1 cause of death for teens, according to the National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why? Teen drivers have better eyesight and they have better perception and reaction time when behind the wheel. But they make lousy decisions and in general most of the car accidents that teens are involved in also involve poor driving judgment. In other words, teens get easily distracted when behind the wheel.

But don’t assume that the cellphone and texting while driving are the only offenders causing driving distractions for teen drivers.

While cellphones and texting are probably the two biggest distractions, and the two biggest reasons for these car accidents, they aren’t the only ones.

Just say no to these driving distractions

As Global Youth Traffic Safety Month, organized by the National Organizations for Youth Safety, continues through May, I’m doing my part as an attorney who emphasizes driver safety over all. That means encouraging teens to resist such common driving distractions as:

  • Drinking hot beverages: That large latte, hot chocolate or tea from the name-brand coffee chain will cause more than a stain if you spill it on your pants or shirt. Even with a travel lid, hot coffee can find its way out of the opening, and there’s high potential for a full spill.
  • Eating: Trying to hold and eat loose food items such as tacos amounts to an accident in the making. The grease from a hamburger or fries could end up on your hands and the wheel. And eating a slice of pizza is a delicate enough balancing act while sitting at a table, let alone in a driver’s seat. It’s safer — and much cleaner — to pull over if you want to dine.
  • Grooming: Applying makeup, getting in a quick electric shave (or, worse, a dry razor one) or gelling your hair while driving takes your eyes off the road completely. You’re focusing on what’s in the visor mirror, which means you’re seeing your face as well as the traffic behind you instead of what’s in front of you. It’s not worth causing a chain of rear-end collisions just so you can save a few minutes in the powdering room.
  • Mishandling vehicle controls: Get a better handle on what each vehicle control function does during the driver’s ed process — or horror of horrors, by asking an adult — instead of trying to figure out what’s where by yourself on a busy road.
  • Adjusting and cranking up the radio: Think of a car stereo as a domed headphone system, in that no one else outside the car can hear what you’re listening to (unless the windows are down). Blasting it will take your concentration away from listening for sirens or other cars that could be honking their horns in warning. Listening to music or a talk show should enhance your drive, not fully consume it. Also, avoid the urge while driving to thumb through all the stations or your playlist to find a different song, as your eyes will be off the road.
  • Similar-aged passengers: For teens, one passenger increases their crash risk by 48 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. That risk grows exponentially as more passengers are added — 258 percent more with two passengers and 307 percent more with three or more. The National Safety Council recommends no one under the age of 18 allowed in the car during a teen’s first year of driving, and so do we.

They learn from you about driving distractions

As much as we’ve been taught to believe that teens have the “parents just don’t understand” mentality, that doesn’t mean they aren’t watching us.

I’ve spoken with teen drivers at several Metro Detroit-area high schools for the annual Law Day. I know that educating teenagers about driving distractions can go a long way in preventing teens from doing the things that can lead to car accidents. And as a father of children who are not in their teen years just yet, I know one day they will be, so I know what to say when they start to ask me to borrow the car.

They may not always listen. But they will mimic. And they will model their own driving habits after yours. So the best advice here, as always, is that actions are louder than words.

Be a strong driving role model by curbing the things that we do that are driving distractions. Remember, that text can wait.

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