Driving + Inexperience + Texting = Trouble

As a parent or guardian, model good behavior and put away your phone when driving.

Richard Lichenstein, MD
July 27, 2018

Distracted driving is a growing problem with deadly consequences.

In the U.S., nearly 3,500 people were killed and 400,000 more were injured in car crashes involving distracted drivers in 2015. Today, our society is more connected thanks to cell phones and social media. They are so addictive and easy to use that these connections feel essential – to the point that drivers often become anxious if they receive a text or notification and do not see it or respond to it immediately.

This adds to other distractions such as eating, changing the radio, messing with a GPS, and anything else that takes your eyes off the road or your mind from driving. This problem is even worse for young drivers who are avid users of social media but are also inexperienced drivers who are more prone to crashes.

Simply put, distracted driving is any activity that takes your attention away from driving. Different types of distraction include:

1. Visual: taking your eyes off the road

2. Manual: removing your hands from the steering wheel

3. Cognitive: taking your mind off driving

A distraction like texting or using social media is especially risky because it involves all three major types of distraction.

Young Adult Brains Not Fully Developed

Many people falsely assume that performing other tasks while driving can be as simple as walking and chewing gum at the same time. But driving safely takes all of our attention when we are behind the wheel. A typical drive involves paying attention to the road and cars all around us, recognizing changes in light and weather, anticipating the actions of other drivers and road users, and planning and taking appropriate action when any of these factors change.

Unfortunately, the brain is not fully developed until the mid- to late-20s, so teen drivers are less able to handle these complicated driving tasks. Teens are also more likely to participate in risky behavior, and when you add in their inexperience, these factors could set the stage for disaster.

Consider how harmless it may seem to a teen to look down for 'just a second' at a text while driving. Studies show that a second is actually more like five seconds, and that at 55 miles per hour, the car is traveling the entire length of a football field. Even when a driver’s eyes are off the road for a few seconds and the car is traveling at slower speeds, the unexpected can occur with serious consequences.

Serious Penalties

In Maryland, there are laws against distracted driving and using hand-held cell phones while behind the wheel. If you are found using a cell phone and/or looking down to text, you can get a ticket that carries an $83 fine for using the phone and an additional $70 fine specifically for texting. A distracted driving crash will also cost you three points on your license, and if that crash results in a fatality, you can be fined up to $5,000 and sentenced to one year in prison (Jake's Law). Your state may have differing laws and fines for cell phone use behind the wheel, but regardless of the law your teen must know that it is never okay to use a phone – even hands-free – behind the wheel.

What Parents Can Do

In fact, the best thing you can do, as a parent or guardian, is model good behavior and put away your phone when driving. The primary objective is to get to your destination safely and no text or notification should get in the way of that. Have ongoing conversations with your teen about the dangers of distracted driving and always follow these rules yourself. Research has shown that parents are the most important influence on a teen's behavior so your actions can help keep them safe.

Richard Lichenstein, MD

Richard Lichenstein, MD, is a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a pediatric emergency physician at the University of Maryland Medical Children's Hospital, chair of the Teen Safe Driving Coalition in Maryland and chair of the State Child Fatality Review Team.

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