The Distracted Driving Epidemic: Tips to Curb Teen Texting and More

teen-texting-distracted-drivingIf you’ve flipped on network TV in recent months, odds are you’ve caught a disturbing commercial featuring a carload of teens that turns from happy to tragic in a split second. The campaign aims to discourage teen texting and driving, and data suggests now is the best time to do so.

A recent study by the Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY revealed that more teens die annually from texting while driving than they do from drunk driving. If you couple that with auto-related accidents already being the the #1 killer of 15-19 year olds, you have a serious issue on your hands.

“The reality is kids aren’t drinking seven days per week — they are carrying their phones and texting seven days per week, so you intuitively know this a more common occurrence,” Dr. Andrew Adesman, the hospital’s Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, told CBS New York.

The aforementioned commercial (embedded below) and others like it, products of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are coupled with the website distraction.gov, all of which are designed to break drivers of all ages, but especially teens, of this potentially fatal habit.

“Even a single, momentary distraction while driving can cause a lifetime of devastating consequences,” Anthony Foxx, secretary of transportation, said on the website.

The scary reality is that over 3,000 people died in distraction-related driving crashes in 2012, and currently more than 80% of teens have cell phones, 70% of whom admit to having texted while driving. These numbers can seem insurmountable to parents of newly driving teens, but they don’t have to be. There are a number of steps a parent can take to stop this habit before it becomes fatal; here are our top 5.

1. Set a Good Example – Teenagers love their phones almost as much as they hate hypocrisy. If you’re telling them not to text and drive in a text while you’re driving, you’re sending mixed messages. If they see you ignoring texts in the car, they’ll learn from your positive example.

2. Get a Dash Cam – In the past, we’ve discussed how dash cameras are pervasive in other parts of the world as a way to monitor crooked police and the road in general. But, those cameras can also be turned inward to monitor a driver (or feature two cameras that can give a visual record of both directions). Your teen may see it as invasive, but frankly, as long as you can claim them as a dependent, you’re responsible for their safety. Technology has moved a long way in the dash cam department too; you can now find high-end cameras for a fraction of the cost as they had been in recent years.

3. Make the Phone Unavailable – If your teen doesn’t have access to their phone, they can’t text; it’s as simple as that. Make a rule that the phone has to remain in the back seat or the trunk whenever they’re in the car. Or, use something as simple as a Livestrong-type wristband to cover a phone screen in the car. One company sells ones that read “TXTING KILLS” and other anti-distracted driving statements. Meaning no offense, these bracelets may just be unfashionable enough to keep a teen from ignoring their phone altogether.

4. There Are Apps for This – Apps such as DriveOFF, DriveScribe, Canary, and many more monitor vehicle speed and automatically lock apps that could be distracting when the vehicle exceeds a certain speed. Some of the apps have even more expanded functions, allowing parents to check in on their teen’s cell phone use in real time. For a helpful list (as well as some stellar user comments, check out this piece from Mashable).

5. Explain the Consequences – This should be a no-brainer, but talking to your teen about what will happen if they’re caught texting and driving could make all the difference. The consequences don’t need to be distracted driving death statistics, which most always sound alarmist to the ever-indestructible teenager. Set your own consequences: taking away privileges to a phone or a vehicle seem like obvious first steps. You can also explain that, despite how many people do it, a majority of states have bans on texting and driving—it’s illegal, and it could cause fines, suspended licenses and more.

A parent can never know for sure if their message is going to get through to a teenager; and odds are the NHTSA doesn’t expect to eradicate distracted driving with a series of PSAs. The goal appears to be to start a conversation before texting and driving ends a life.

Watch the commercial below:

About the author  ⁄ Erik Helin

Erik is BrickHouse Security's copy chief. Hailing from the Midwest (Wisconsin), Erik moved to NYC in 2010, securing a job at BrickHouse shortly thereafter. Outside of work he writes about music, does freelance advertising work, and wastes his life on the internet. Aside from no-brainers like cheese and beer, Erik enjoys music, travel, TV, his cat, and Brooklyn.