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 3 times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. And 1 in 3 teens who text say they have done so while driving.
  • According to NHTSA, 3,142 people were killed in 2020 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 6 times. Texting is riskier still, increasing collision risk by 23 times.

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 percent 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 a phone call and the road. Inform that in Wisconsin, using a cell phone while driving is against the law for any driver with an instruction permit or probationary license, except to report an emergency. 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. Inform them of the fact that texting while driving is against the law in Wisconsin for all drivers. Enforce the limits set by the graduated licensing program.
  • After receiving their license, drivers under age 18 have additional restrictions for the first 9 months:
    • From 5 a.m. to midnight, your teen can drive alone and go anywhere. Any number of immediate family members can ride along as well as ONE non-family member.
    • From midnight to 5 a.m., your teen can drive alone only IF driving between home, school or work. If driving anywhere else, one of the following people must be seated in the front passenger seat: a parent or legal guardian, or a person 21 or older with a valid, regular license with two years of licensed driving experience. Any number of immediate family members and one other person may ride along.

These restrictions will be extended six months if your teen:

  • is convicted of a moving traffic violation; OR
  • violates any of the restrictions; OR
  • has their license suspended or revoked for any reason.
  • 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, including paying for tickets or loss of driving privileges. Wisconsin DMV offers a parent/teen driver contract in this guidebook and online at
  • Other dangerous distractions: In addition to cell phone use, distracted driving can include eating, grooming, drinking, listening to or adjusting the radio, 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 older 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.