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Phone Addiction is Distracting Teen Drivers

Young woman looking at her smartphone while driving car  

As a parent, it can be scary when teens start driving and riding with other young drivers. Today, in the age of smartphones, personal electronics, and in-dash car entertainment and control systems, distracted driving can make the prospect of setting your child out into the world ⁠— as a driver or a passenger ⁠— absolutely terrifying.

If you are anxious about letting your teen drive or ride with others, you are not alone and your fears are not unreasonable. Drivers who have a phone addiction have a hard time putting down their devices while they drive and contribute to the national problem of distracted driving.

What counts as distracted driving? According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, doing any of the following while driving counts as distracted driving:

  • Talking on your phone
  • Texting on your phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to people in the car
  • Adjusting the radio, stereo or navigation system
  • Doing anything that takes your eyes off the road for five seconds or more

We have probably all been guilty of doing some of these activities and no one is exempt from being addicted to devices or phones. However, according to teenage cell phone addiction statistics, teens are addicted to their phones in very high numbers (24% of 13-to 17-year-olds said they are online “almost constantly”) and are at risk of taking part in distracted driving.

Teens Admit Distracted Driving

When it comes to teenage cell phone addiction and distracted driving, teens are aware of the problem and admit to distracted driving. In 2017, 42% of high school students admitted to being distracted while driving and more than half have been in a car with a distracted driver.

The scope of the problem is difficult to ignore. Teen distracted driving is deadly, with drivers under the age of 20 having the highest proportion of distraction-related fatal crashes. In 2016 alone, 3,450 Americans were killed in car crashes that involved distracted drivers.

Teen Texting and Driving Statistics

Teens texting and driving is a huge part of the problem. Teens tend to text a lot as opposed to making phone calls and they expect a quick response. Teen texting and driving statistics show that almost half of high school students admit to texting while driving and, additionally, these teens who admit to frequent texting and driving were more likely to:

  • Ride with a driver who has been drinking
  • Drink and drive
  • Not wear a seatbelt

Part of the problem of texting and driving is that teens are not just sending messages; they are reading messages as well. This process, even if it’s relatively quick, is not safe under any circumstances. Taking your eyes off the road, even for just five seconds, means that you are not looking at the road for the distance of an entire football field if you are traveling 55 miles per hour.

Teaching Teens to Stand Up Against Distracted Driving

Even though distracted driving is a pervasive issue in the United States, there’s a lot that communities, parents and teens can do about it.

Schools and parents can share teen driving safety tips and take action and do the following:

  • Model good behavior: Don’t practice distracted driving yourself ⁠— this sends a message that it’s not a big deal to be distracted while driving. Establish norms of safe driving so that children know from an early age what is acceptable and not acceptable.
  • Establish a pre-trip checklist: Encourage teens to adjust mirrors, set a music playlist, set navigation routes or remove a jacket before they are in motion. Removing the potential for distraction can set them on the right path.
  • Discuss cell phone dangers and consequences of distracted driving: Share resources with teens so that they understand the dangers of their driving habits ⁠— on themselves, their passengers and other drivers as well. Make an impact on the seriousness of driving and the potential for death and destruction.

Another critically important thing that parents can do is to set out expectations for riding with others and suggest strategies for diminishing harm. Teens are subject to peer pressure and can be less assertive with their friends. However, it’s important for their safety to assert safe driving habits. Prepare your teen for the dangerous situation of being a passenger in a car with a distracted driver. Your teen passenger doesn’t have to be helpless in this situation. Instead, they can do a few things to reduce the risk of a disastrous consequence:

  • Offer to manage the radio or sound system
  • Offer to read and respond to text messages
  • Tell the driver they are uncomfortable
  • Offer to drive instead

If your teen knows that another driver practices unsafe, distracted driving and these interventions do not work, they shouldn’t ride with this driver again. It only takes one incident to cause irreversible damage, injury and even death.

Sources:

Walton, Alice G. “Phone Addiction is Real – And So Are Its Mental Health Risks.” Forbes, December 11, 2017. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Homayoun, Ana. “Is Your Child a Phone ‘Addict’?” The New York Times, January 17, 2018. Accessed November 3, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Distracted Driving.” Accessed November 3, 2019.

Sexton, Chrissy. “More than half of teens have been at the mercy of a distracted young driver.” Earth.com, September 16, 2019. Accessed November 3, 2019.

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