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Teen Drivers and the Disconnect on Defining Distracted Driving

By Beth Weinhouse

Disconnect on Defining Distracted Driving

Parents of teens know that their definitions and interpretations of scenarios can vary vastly. For instance, if you ask your teen to play her music "quietly," you might still find the decibel level hard to take; ask your son to take out the trash "soon" and it might reach the curb tomorrow. A new survey of teen driving habits found that teens may also have different definitions than their parents and experts on what it means to drive safely, especially when it comes to texting and driving.

The 2013 Teen Driving Report, a survey of more than 2,500 11th and 12th graders sponsored by Liberty Mutual and SADD, aimed to understand what teens are thinking when they get behind the wheel of a car. The findings show that most teens know the facts and recognize that certain behaviors are distracting and dangerous while driving - for example more than half (62 percent) think texting and driving is very distracting. However, a majority (68 percent) admitted they still read or reply to a text message received while they're driving. Nearly half (47 percent) of the teens who say they never text while driving still admit to texting at a red light or stop sign. This disconnect is likely due to differing definitions of what it means to use a phone while driving.

Teen Drivers and Distracted Driving

While some of these texting and driving statistics are alarming, there are some reassuring findings, too. For instance, nearly all the teens surveyed-more than 90 percent-said they've asked a driver to hand over their cell phone so they (the passenger) could send the text for their driver friend.

Teachers and parents need to take these findings and make sure that teens understand and act according to the entire message. Checking your phone, sending out a text message, or even changing settings on your GPS can be a risky behavior even while at a stop sign or traffic light.

Teen Drivers and Distracted Driving

Dave Melton, driving safety expert and managing director of global safety at Liberty Mutual, points to why these actions can be just as dangerous as texting while the car is in motion. "Any time you use your phone when you are driving, whether you're moving or at a stoplight, your attention is diverted and you put yourself, passengers and others on the road at risk," says Melton. He suggests if you need to use your phone while driving to find a safe place to pull off the road to make a call or send a text, adding, "It's not worth the risk to respond at a stop sign or before the light turns green."

Teens aren't going to take messages about safe driving seriously unless you talk with them about how important it is, and reinforce that message by practicing safe, undistracted driving yourself.


March 19, 2014, 7:13 AM

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