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Distracted Driving

Distracted Driving: Keeping Teens Safe On The Road

By Adrian Brune

Like most graduating high school seniors, in the late spring of 2012, Anna Brewer had a graduation party to attend: a familiar gathering of friends at an unfamiliar location in the leafy Philadelphia suburbs. Despite the geographic challenge, Brewer opted out of using the family GPS.

When Brewer's own navigation skills failed her, a smart phone with a map app seemed to save the day, until it created a common distraction. While following the blue dot to the red circle, Brewer veered the family car into a ditch off the side of the road, where it abruptly made a full stop into a tree.

Brewer, luckily, walked away from the accident. The car, whose four airbags deployed upon impact, was TOA totaled on arrival when it reached a local garage for resuscitation and a repair estimate.

"No matter how responsible you think your child is, they are going to do something they shouldn't, or something stupid they think is right," said Anna's mother Frances Brewer. "But when you're not acting properly or paying attention, the car you're driving turns into a weapon, one that can hurt you or other people in an instant."

In 2011, 3,331 people were killed and 387,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, according to Distracted.org, an educational website maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Drivers under 20 are among the strongest users of cell phones, and they tend to be early adopters and aggressive users of new technology, says the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Distractions like checking a cell phone for directions entail greater risk for teenagers, who are inexperienced and must devote more of their mental focus on the multiple tasks involved in driving. In fact, research suggests many key areas of the brain are still developing during adolescence, including areas involved in regulatory competence, forming judgments and decision making all of which have important implications for driving. For these reasons, teenage drivers have greater difficulty in effectively managing distracting behaviors and situations. The numbers speak for themselves: 11% of all drivers under the age of 20 who were involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crash.

Parents and guardians can keep their teenagers safe by talking to them about safe driving and the dangers of distractions, even seemingly innocent actions, such as glancing down at your phone to look for directions. Some of the best ways to do that is by starting the conversations early, even before they have their learners permit, and by setting a good example when you're driving.

"Her being the type of conscientious kid she is, I didn't punish her the incident scared her enough," Brewer said. "But she is going to have to shoulder the deductible for the damage and cover the higher insurance premium. Just those consequences alone have made her more aware of protecting herself and not using gadgets she didn't have to use in the first place."

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