Drive to Stay Alive
By Electra Blake
Imagine being with friends – laughing, listening to music, and planning how fun the night ahead will be. The friend driving looks down at her phone to text another good friend to join the fun. Oh, what a blast this night will be! As she hits the “send” button, there is a chilling screech of tires; everyone looks up only to see an SUV heading right toward them, because in the two seconds the driver took to text, she veered into oncoming traffic and a head-on collision. It kills everyone in the car instantaneously. Sound horrific? It is much more common than one would think. In fact, the number one cause of teen (ages 15 – 20) death in the U.S. is car crashes (Sifferlin). Distracted driving, drunk driving and texting while driving are the major causes of car accidents for teens. What can teenagers do to drive safely?
Distracted driving refers to how a teen drives when friends are in the car or when doing any activity that is not focused only on driving. This includes eating, drinking, “personal grooming”, adjusting “mirrors, GPS directions, or music selections” (DMV.org). Driving with friends can greatly increase the risk of accidents, and “many states have laws restricting the number of passengers that teen drivers can transport” (Sifferlin). Studies have shown that when teens drive with friends, they will do riskier things, not pay attention, and do not correctly “perceive the risks inherent in driving and suspect their parents are not monitoring their behavior” (Sifferlin). Some solutions for this problem are: parents can offer to drive when there are groups of teens; do not allow teens to drive with anyone else in the car or to take anyone else in his/her car; use Uber, Lyft or other types of transportation companies to drive groups of more than two. Another option is to really educate their teen about the dangers of driving distracted. Showing statistics, research and making a Promise Plan that both the teen and parents sign – for example, if the teen cheats they lose the car for a certain amount of time – that can help because they like having the responsibility of driving and having the car; therefore, not driving with a group of friends. Also making sure teens are on time for events and that he/she program his or her GPS or choose music and not to eat in the car are important ways to keep teenagers safe.
Drunk driving means when a teen has consumed any amounts of alcohol and drives - the legal age for drinking alcohol is 21 in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “in 2016, 2,433 teens in the United Stated ages 16 – 19 were killed and 292,742 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes” (CDC.gov). Drinking impairs judgment - “1/4 of fatal teen car accidents involve underage drinking” (Snyder). Drinking also prevents logical thinking - “70% of young drivers who died in underage drinking and driving accidents didn’t use a seatbelt” (Snyder). To prevent this, parents can first educate their teenager about the dangers of drinking and driving. Being aware of how dangerous this situation can be could prevent teens from drinking and driving as well as getting in a car with a drunk driver. Another way to prevent drinking and driving, if parents are unsure if the teen will listen, is to have Uber or Lyft - companies with applications on mobile smartphones that pick one up from any location and drive from that location to another (Vella). Parents can prevent a teen from using a car until college or when it is really needed, and older people should not offer to buy alcohol for underage teens. Yet another option is to make a Promise Plan so that if the teen is caught drinking, they will lose ALL car privileges.
“Eleven teens die every day as a result of texting while driving” and texting while driving is the most deadly of the three main crash causes (TeenSafe.org). It is because it takes hand(s) away from the steering wheel, keeps “eyes off the road”, and puts the attention of the driver somewhere else (DMV.org). When a person reads or answers a text, he or she is not focused on the road. “A single text can take a driver’s attention off of the road for about five seconds...a car travelling at 55mph can cover the length of a football field” in that amount of time (TeenSafe.com). Being on a mobile phone is dangerous because the brain is doing two things at once, 100% focus needs to be on the road. When teens are texting, studies show that “activity in this part of the brain slows down by about 33% when the driver is distracted by a cell phone” (TeenSafe.com). Sadly, teenagers “send and receive an average of 167 texts per day” (TeenSafe.com). Nothing is so important that it cannot wait until stopping at a light or waiting until reaching the destination. There are states that do have laws against texting while driving, but it is difficult to catch, and fines are low (TeenSafe.com). Parents should not text while driving so their teen does not see bad behavior. Ways to prevent texting while driving are: ask a friend in the car to text a message or read one; use the voice function on mobile smartphones to read the messages aloud or take texts; wait until finished driving to text or read messages; put the mobile phone in the back seat, trunk, or glove box so that it is not a distraction; turn the ringer off before driving to not be tempted to look at the phone; educate teens about the statistics of texting while driving so he/she can know the dangers; create a signed Promise Plan that if texting while driving, he/she will lose car and/or phone. “Accidents happen in a split second, and no message is worth dying for” (TeenSafe.com). Parent safety applications such as Norton for Android, NetNanny, or TeenSafe for iPhones allows parents to look at texts, Whatsapp and Kik Messenger even pause the activity of the phone for a certain amount of time (TeenSafe.com).
Driving while distracted, driving while intoxicated, and texting while driving are the three main causes of fatal car crashes for teenagers, which is the leading cause of teen deaths in the United States (Sifferlin). The solutions to these problems include: educating teens about the dangers of driving, not driving unless really needed or until older; driving alone – no friends allowed in the car; making Uber or Lyft programs available for teens; parents driving or picking up teens when needed; using Smartphone functions to listen or record texts; using applications to monitor teens’ phones for texting while driving; creating Promise Plans (see a sample below) – a signed agreement between parent(s) and teens that clearly explains the rules, and consequences for breaking the rules, while driving. Teens are their parents’ most precious treasures; they need to learn to value their own lives as much their parents do.