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Distracted Driving & More

Distracted driving involves any activity that takes the driver’s attention away from the primary task of driving. Distracted driving, impairment, speeding, and not wearing seat belts are all risky choices that can lead to serious injury and death. Teens, who are still learning the complex skills of driving, are particularly susceptible to distractions while behind the wheel. Don’t let you or your teen become another statistic. Here are the facts:

  • Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Mile for mile, teens ages 16–19 are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. In a 2019 study, 39% of teen drivers admitted to texting while driving at least once in the previous 30 days.
  • Between 2016 and 2020 in Iowa, drivers aged 14–20 made up only 9.58% of the driving population, but were involved in over 30.74% of electronic device distracted driving crashes. During this period, there were 5,592 total crashes caused by electronic device distraction, including 36 fatal and 864 injury crashes.
  • According to NHTSA 3,166 people were killed in 2017 in distraction-related crashes nationwide, with teens having the highest rate of distracted driving crashes involving a fatality.
  • A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study revealed that physically dialing a phone while driving increases the risk of a crash as much as six times. Texting is riskier still, increasing collision risk by 23 times.
  • A recent AAA study shows that when a teen driver is carrying teen passengers, the fatality rate for the teen driver increases 45 percent; for occupants of other cars it increases 56 percent; and for pedestrians and cyclists in increases 17 percent.

There are three kinds of distractions:

  • Visual — doing something that requires the driver to look away from the driving task.
  • Manual — doing something that requires the driver to take one or both hands off the wheel.
  • Cognitive — doing something that causes the driver’s mind to wander or focus elsewhere.

To combat this growing epidemic, we suggest the following:

  • Set a good example: Kids observe and learn from their parents. Put your phone away while driving and only use it when you are safely pulled over. According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of teens aged 12 to 17 say they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves and others in danger.
  • Talk to your teen: Discuss the risks and responsibilities of driving and the danger of dividing their attention between their phone and the road. Show them the statistics related to distracted driving and urge them to share what they learn with their friends. Encourage them to speak up if they are a passenger in a car with a distracted driver.
  • Establish ground rules: Set up family rules about not using the phone or other electronic devices while behind the wheel. All electronic communication is prohibited for teens with an instruction permit or intermediate license in Iowa.
  • Sign a pledge: Have your teen take action by agreeing to a family contract about wearing safety belts, not speeding, not driving after drinking, and not using a cell phone behind the wheel. Agree on penalties for violating the pledge, such as paying for tickets or loss of driving privileges.
  • Other dangerous distractions: In addition to cell phone use, distracted driving can include eating, grooming, drinking, listening to or adjusting the radio or MP3 player, using the GPS, talking to passengers, or watching a video, just to name a few activities. Inexperienced drivers are particularly susceptible to these kinds of distractions.

Eyes on the road

Teens tend to look away from the road and become distracted for longer periods than experienced drivers. It’s important to train them to keep their eyes on the road ahead. While parked, test your teen on how long they look away when doing various tasks inside the vehicle, such as tuning the radio. Coach them repeatedly on the importance of focusing on the road ahead.