Distracted Driving: What Parents Need to Know

It Isn’t Just Our Teenagers

Distracted driving is everywhere in our society and it isn’t just our teenagers who are failing to give their full attention to the road while they are behind the wheel.  It is very likely that if you drove a car at any point in the last 24 hours, you did something that falls under the heading of distracted driving.  When we hear “Distracted Driving” many of us think it refers to teenagers texting while they drive, which is true, but only part of the problem.

It Isn’t Just About Texting

The term distracted driving has become almost synonymous with texting while driving, but it includes many other activities as well, some of which are very common occurrences during any daily commute.  Distracted driving is defined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) as performing or participating in any activity that could divert the driver’s attention away from driving.  This means that most of the things we do in the car qualify as distracted driving and increase our likelihood of being in an accident.  The NHTSA lists the following activities as distractions that can cause a hazardous driving condition:

  • Texting
  • Using a SmartPhone for any activity
  • Talking on the phone
  • Talking to passengers
  • Using a GPS
  • Reading a map
  • Drinking
  • Eating
  • Grooming (i.e. putting on mascara or lipstick)
  • Messing with the radio

 Texting is the Worst

When you write and send a text message, you have to divert attention from driving to perform the functions required to look at the screen, type in the message, make sure the message is right, and then send it.  This means that you are stealing visual, manual, and cognitive attention from the act of driving which can result in very dangerous consequences.

The Hard Truth

The statistics don’t lie.  In 2009, the NHTSA indicates that 5,474 people died in car accidents where the driver was distracted and 10% of all accidents that year involved some kind of distracted behavior.   Teen drivers are much more likely to be in a fatal accident when they are distracted than any other age group.  Texting while driving makes it 23 times more likely that an accident will occur and sending an average text message takes the drivers eyes off the road for almost 5 seconds.  This is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field blind folded.   Using a headset for phone calls isn’t much safer than just holding the phone in your hand because it still diverts the same amount of cognitive attention.  In fact, research completed by the University of Utah found that using a cell-phone while driving, regardless of whether it is hands-free or not, causes the same delayed reaction drivers who are legally drunk experience.

What Parents Can Do

1.     Set a Good Example

If you don’t want your teens using their cell phones, eating, drinking, talking, or doing other distracting activities while driving, show them by practicing what you preach.

2.     Talk to Teens

Sit down with your teen and explain why distracted driving is so dangerous and what activities constitute distracted driving.  Being clear about which behaviors are putting them at risk will help them to make the right decision when it matters.

3.     Take the Pledge


As part of the NHTSA’s awareness campaign, they are asking individuals, families, businesses… really anyone who drives, to take the distraction-free driving pledge.  Avoiding taking those 5 seconds to send a quick text while driving could literally save your life.

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