Driving While Distracted
Teens More Susceptible Due To Inexperience


One of the most significant stages of teenage independence is obtaining the coveted driver’s license. While it may add a few extra gray hairs upon the heads of their parents, most moms and dads remember this as the beginnings of their own rite of passage into adulthood.


There are obvious inherent dangers, however that exists for inexperienced and still immature drivers. The teenager is prone to take risks and while they may understand the need for safety, may not always practice it.


No greater threat exists for the teenage driver than distractions while driving. Cell phones, primarily texting messages, have become a staple in the social activities of many teens. This practice, however, presents significant dangers to teen drivers, their passengers and other motorists on the road. Passengers, especially peers rather than parents, can also lead to lack of concentration.


As teens are learning to drive, the ability to steer and brake an automobile is relatively easy for them. When it comes to judging distance and speed, scanning traffic and mirrors, and proper reaction to developing dangers are where driver inexperience becomes an ominous issue.


Johnston County in North Carolina has seen a dramatic increase in teen deaths as a result of automobile accidents in recent years. The county leads the state in such deaths. In 2007, 11 teen deaths were reported due to automobile accidents, and again for 2008, Johnston County has seen another seven teens lose their lives in car wrecks. The problem has become so alarming that a public forum took place in Smithfield last week with residents coming together with law enforcement, emergency personnel and state transportation officials to discuss remedies to lower the number of incidences.


 The county is also hosting a special free instructional program, called “Alive at 25” with hopes of providing further driving. While the program is free, there is a nominal charge of $5.50 for instructional materials.


So, what can parents do themselves to insure their teens stay safe?


-Parents can first consider the vehicle that their teens will primarily drive. In the earliest stages of learning to drive, safety should be paramount. Your children should avoid convertibles and vehicles with a high center of gravity. Rollover accidents are common where a teen driver may lose control and overcorrect. This happened the evening of October 31st near Benson when a teen driver lost control and roll the vehicle, inadvertently killing his best friend who was a passenger. 


- Driving during the day is much different than at night. Gradually introduce nighttime driving to your teen driver. Many teen-related accidents happen at night.


- Watch out for bad weather. Much like nighttime driving, you’ll want to initially avoid allowing your teenage child to drive in rainy, foggy or wintry conditions.

- Limit your teen’s driving on the highway to begin with until they have understanding of increasing speed means greater risks of loss of control and longer braking distance.


- While carrying a cell phone in the vehicle is important, make sure that they understand the law restricting teen usage while driving. 


- Establish your own rules and guidelines and suspend driving privileges when you discover your teen speeding, driving recklessly or not wearing his/her seat belt. At the same time, reward your teen when they display good driving skills. Chances are they are building self-confidence in their own abilities and parents also showing trust in their teen child’s driving ability will solidify their self-assurance.


- Be wary of allowing friends to ride alone with your teen child too soon. Many states, including North Carolina, have multiple stages in driver permits and licenses and limits the passengers to parents. However, while its important that the law be understood by teens, parents are equally obligated to make sure that their own house rules are kept and that their teen drivers understand how to operate an automobile before allowing passenger privileges.


The majority of teens will, despite maybe a close call here or there, will grow in driving experience and maturity. However, one loss of life is too much to lose. Inevitably, accidents will happen and motor vehicle-related fatalities occur.  Yet, better instruction by parents to their teenage drivers will help alleviate those tragic circumstances.