m_pap130108faAny parent who has taught their teenager to drive knows how harrowing that experience can be — for parent and child! We rely on driver education courses in high school, online courses through auto insurance companies (for discounts on insurance), and even private driving lessons to help our teens learn the rules of the road and reinforce the rules of common sense.

One thing every driver can attest to is that being distracted while driving is dangerous. Some potential distractions haven’t changed:  other passengers in the car, the car stereo, a fancy billboard, a pretty sunset. One thing that has changed is the ubiquitous cell phone. That one small, smart device provides a bundle full of opportunities to distract a driver, even if some of the functions of the phone can be performed “hands-free.”

Adolescents are four times more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents than drivers over 20 years old. While these accidents are one of the leading causes of death in older teens, they cause tremendous damage to the lives and property of all of us. I see a lot of people of all ages using their cell phones while driving, and I’m sure you do, too. Adults need to be better role models for younger drivers.

JAMA Pediatrics has a nice public safety feature about distracted driving and cell phones. It starts with defining distracted driving:

Distracted driving includes the following:

1.  Any behavior that takes the driver’s eyes off the road (visual distraction).

2.  Any behavior that takes the driver’s hands off the steering wheel (manual distraction).

3.  Anything that takes the driver’s mind off driving (cognitive distraction).


Then some statistics based on recent studies:

One of the most common forms of distracted driving for teens today is cell phones. Currently, 77% of drivers talk on their phones while driving, 81% of young adults write text messages while driving, and 92% of young adults read text messages while driving. Drivers are 23-fold more likely to crash if texting while driving.


Finally, some suggestions are offered about what parents can do to prevent distracted driving. Most important is that parents act as role models:

Parents should always wear a seatbelt when driving and insist that passengers do as well. Parents should not use their own cell phones when driving.


A related study published in the same issue of JAMA Pediatrics found that teenagers with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder had increased driving errors to begin with, compared with those without ADHD, due to their inattentiveness and easy distractibility. Texting while driving resulted in even poorer driving performance in the teens with ADHD.


(Image: JAMA Pediatrics)