Teen Driving Safety: 20 Ways to Teach Teens To Put Down Their Devices

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November 5, 2020

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!

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Table of Contents

When teens get their driver's license there's an important step parents need to take before giving teens the car keys – teaching digital safety to keep teen drivers safe and prevent motor vehicle crashes. According to a study from the Pew Research Center, "nearly all U.S. teens (95%) say they have access to a smartphone– and 45% say they are 'almost constantly' on the Internet". Since cell phones are now such an integral part of daily life, it’s important that parents and driver's education teachers inform new drivers about the risks of using their devices while driving. This is an essential skill for new drivers. Law enforcement officers see the deadly consequences of teen crashes every single day.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for new drivers and a high number of those accidents are caused by impaired driving, whether from cell phone use while driving or drug and alcohol use. No parent wants their teen driver to experience a fatal crash so going over these safe teen driving tips together as a family or as part of a driver's education program is so important.

How can parents and educators do their best to ensure teens aren’t getting distracted by their devices while driving? Read the advice from experts about promoting safe teen driving below.

The SmartSocial.com Team asked 11 parents and safety experts to share their best tips for teaching teens to avoid digital distractions while driving.

Steven Dorfman

1. Create a “New Driver Deal”

Steven Dorfman, Car Accident Trial Lawyer

One of the ways to reinforce safe driving behaviors is to create a “New Driver Deal.” Organizations such as the National Safety Council offer free templates for downloading parent-teen driver agreements

These documents can be useful in helping parents set rules for their teens getting behind the wheel. Parents can define what qualifies as a distraction involving cell phone use, such as watching TikToks, responding to calls and texts, and checking notifications. The agreement allows flexibility for parents to update as their teen gains more experience behind the wheel.

Open lines of communication about the dangers and consequences of distracted driving. Teens often feel invincible, and the worst-case scenario in the form of motor vehicle crashes would never happen to them. Having a conversation about the risks of using a cell phone while driving may go a long way. It may be helpful for parents to look up a few statistics on how many teens are injured in distracted driving accidents. 

Parents should let their teens know that driving is a big responsibility and that they trust them, but there will be consequences for breaking the rules behind the wheel, like using a cell phone while driving. Should their teen use a phone behind the wheel, make sure to quickly provide a consequence such as suspending their driving privileges for a certain period..

Parents may also want to use fire to fight fire or, in this case, technology to fight technology. There are apps like Drive First by Sprint, DriveMode by AT&T and Canary, among others, that parents can download on their teenager’s phone that prevents them from being able to text and drive. They disable text abilities when the vehicle moves or passes a GPS perimeter.

Mark Joseph

2. Role Play Safe Driving Practices with Teens

Mark Joseph, Founder of Parental Queries

I have seen the consequences firsthand when my family members were involved in car crashes due to distracted driving. It was a wake-up call that led me down this path and inspired me to help equip parents with the tools they need to properly educate their families on why it is essential not to use their cell phones while behind the wheel so they can avoid teen crashes.

One effective strategy is role-playing. Teens don’t always take our warnings about the dangers of distracted driving seriously, but showing them how it could affect their lives by putting them in a simulated situation may help drive the message home.

Another strategy that can be valuable is introducing teens to communities and organizations dedicated to raising awareness about cell phone use while driving. By connecting with people with similar values, they will understand why this issue matters and what they can do to make a difference.

Another idea is to introduce teens to new technologies designed to help prevent distracted driving, such as apps blocking incoming texts and calls while the vehicle is in motion. Making teens aware of these tools can be agreat way to show them how technology can be used for good and encourage thinking about safety first.

Victoria Taylor

3. Parents Set the Example on the Road

Victoria Taylor, Educator
Best Case Parenting

Parents can start by setting a good example. If parents themselves don't use their phones while driving, teens are more likely to follow suit. In addition, families should create house rules about using cell phones in the car and make sure everyone follows them. Parents can also discuss the dangers of texting or using apps while driving with teens and explain how this behavior increases their risk for an accident.

Parents can also engage in conversations with teens around social media use and distracted driving. This includes discussing peer pressure related to being available at all times which leads to distracted behaviors like checking notifications behind the wheel. 

These conversations allow teens to develop self-awareness around personal safety on the road and explore solutions together (with adults) if any dangerous situations arise due to cell phone distractions while driving. By taking proactive steps such as these, families can work together towards safer roads today!

Mo Mulla

4. Use a Variety of Teaching Methods to Keep Teens Safe While Driving

Mo Mulla, Parental Questions

Parents can teach teens not to use their cell phones while driving to avoid car crashes in a variety of ways, such as:

1. Model safe behavior - Parents can lead by example when it comes to not using their cell phones  while driving and make sure they set boundaries around device usage that they can also enforce with their teen.

2. Find conversation starters - Use events, such as watching an accident on the news or seeing a distracted driver in person, to start the conversation

about what makes distracted driving so dangerous.

3. Develop household rules - Discuss and establish rules that discourage cell phone usage while driving, potentially even leading up to

disconnecting devices from vehicles altogether before starting them up for a drive.

4. Educate work/school peers/other parents - Talk to other parents about having similar discussions with their teens and lobby for more comprehensive education programs at school or in the workplace related to distracted driving prevention awareness initiatives.

5. Utilize resources- Install apps like textalyzer or parental controls that help monitor your teen's texting habits behind the wheel (giving feedback if necessary). Keep these conversations collaborative. Allowing your teen some input into how you approach any strategy-related topics around this topic will be important too!

6. Make  a technology pact - Have your teen sign a written agreement that outlines the family's expectations for cell phone usage while driving and provides them with consequences in case of violation.

7. Provide incentives for safe behavior - Offer rewards for teens who practice safe habits such as not using their phones behind the wheel or keeping it off altogether.

8. Create a distraction-free zone in the car - Ask your teen to put their phone in the glove box or somewhere else where it cannot be easily accessed while driving. Set up an agreement that they can use their phones once they reach their destination safely.

Aura De Los Santos

5. Have an Honest Conversation with Students about Texting and Driving

Aura De Los Santos, Educational Psychologist

One of the first ways parents can teach their children not to use cell phones while driving is through a serious and honest conversation. It is possible that this type of conversation will not happen for the first and last time, but it will be necessary for parents to explain to their children several times why they should not use their cell phone while driving to avoid fatal crashes. 

Parents must be clear and honest with their children. If they know a story of someone they know who has suffered the consequences of using a cell phone while driving, it will be a good way to put them in context. 

Another way would be to search for documentaries to watch with your students so they see what the  statistics say about what happens when a person uses a cell phone while driving. 

There are also applications that block the cell phone when the vehicle reaches a certain speed. 

Collen Clark

6. Help teens understand that texting while driving is the most dangerous type of distraction

Collen Clark, Personal Injury Lawyer

Help students understand that texting while driving is the most dangerous type of distraction. 

According to the CDC, there are three classifications of distracted driving: 

1) Visual, which is taking your eyes off the road 

2) Cognitive, which is taking your mind off the task of driving, and 

3) Manual, which is taking your hands off the driving wheel

Doing any of these is considered impaired driving and can instantly lead to accidents. Have a conversation with your teen about  these three classifications and discuss how  texting while driving combines all these distractions in one decision.

Rex Freiberger

7. Teach your teen to use the Focus function on their iPhone

Rex Freiberger, CEO & Editor

If your teen has an iPhone, you can encourage them to set up a function that helps all of us avoid using our cell phone while driving: Focus. The driving focus mode is easy to enable and reduces the temptation to check your phone by limiting notifications. 

If your impulsive teen still struggles to avoid using their phone in the car, I suggest teaching them to adopt an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. Help them get in the habit of storing their phone in the center console or glove compartment while driving so they can better concentrate on getting to their destination safely.

Ben Michael

8. Make sure teens know the legal consequences

Ben Michael, Director of Auto, Michael & Associates

It is beneficial for parents to remind teens that when they use their cell phones while driving, they are putting themselves and others at risk due to distracted driving. 

Parents can use a variety of methods to teach their teens not to use their cell phones while driving. One of the most effective ways is through positive reinforcement. This means praising your teen for making safe and responsible decisions, like choosing not to use their cell phone while behind the wheel. It's also important to explain why it's important not to use the phone while driving—so they understand the dangers and consequences of doing so.

Provide clear rules around using phones while driving, such as turning off or silencing all notifications (including text messages and calls) while in a moving vehicle and no playing games or watching videos on their phones.

Give your teen reminders, such as keeping their phone out of reach when they're in the car or setting up a hands-free device so that it's easier for them to follow your rules without having to compromise safety or convenience.

Parents should also consider setting a good example by following the same rules  themselves, since teens are more likely to take advice from someone who practices what they preach. It's also important for parents to set consequences for violations, such as having electronics privileges revoked until an appropriate amount of time has passed, or even temporarily taking away the teen's driver’s license if necessary.

It can be helpful for parents to have conversations about other alternatives for staying connected when teens need help or assistance. For instance, helping them learn how to use apps like Apple Maps or Google Maps which allow drivers to get directions hands-free via voice commands instead of typing out information on their phones while driving. Parents can also discuss different ways that teens can stay connected with friends

without using their phones—like setting up plans ahead of time instead of texting back and forth between destinations.

Remind students that if they choose not to follow the rules regarding cell phone usage while driving, they may face legal penalties as well as repercussions from family members, teachers, and school administrators. Knowing this will help them make better choices behind the wheel!

Claudia Luiz

9. Use a healthy level of fear to keep teens safe

Claudia Luiz, Award-winning Author, “The Making of a Psychoanalyst”

One of the lessons we’ve learned from neuroscience is that things often hit us more powerfully when we address our heart rather than our head.That means that common sense information may not be as powerful as using a healthy level of fear. 

At a school where I consulted, a 16-year-old driver was killed while texting her mom. Her friends stopped texting while driving because the terrifying reality was brought home emotionally for them. You do not want to terrorize your child but you do want to help them be aware of kids who were killed due to unsafe behaviors on the road and impress upon them that texting while driving isn’t just poor judgment but can truly be deadly.

Marielle Melling heashot
Marielle Melling

10. Teach by example

Marielle Melling, Lovin' Life with Littles 

I have my younger teen text for me while I'm driving so that she sees I don't text and drive. I mention why, and this teaches an easy way for her to handle the temptation when she begins driving soon. As parents, we're also trying to teach an overall relationship with phones where we show, it can wait. Teaching by example is often the best lesson.

11. Give teens parameters for driving, after all, it is a privilege, not a right

Janet Patterson headshot
Janet Patterson

Janet Patterson, VP of Marketing Communications, Highway Title Loans 

  • Educate them about the severity involved

Teens need to be taught that they are not the first to think that it's not a big deal to use phones while driving. There are several occasions where teens thought the same but did not get they were wrong until it was too late. The leading cause of death for 13 to 19 year-olds is car accidents. Distracted driving resulting in a fatal collision, injury, or death can also lead to jail time. Drivers repeatedly caught for distracted driving can have their license revoked temporarily or, in some cases, permanently.

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16–19 than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash. - CDC

  • Define parameters

Before parents start teaching their kids how to drive or allow them to drive around on their own, they should define some parameters. For example, you can tell your teen they won't be allowed to drive if they're caught avoiding any traffic rules. Similarly, parents can set up the same boundary for using cellphones while driving.

  • Use a phone blocker

Systems like Truce and tXtBlocker prevent drivers from being able to use their phones while in the car. However, they still allow phone access to passengers. They are usually easy to install and have customizable settings.

12. Take a family pledge together

Stewart J. Guss headshot
Stewart J. Guss

Stewart J. Guss, Founder and Personal Injury Lawyer, Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers

While there are plenty of PSAs with graphic texting-and-driving accident reenactments out there, the truth is you can't scare your children into safety. Instead, you must lead by example. Never text and drive while your teen is in the car.

Make it a family affair: take a safe driver pledge together or write a contract you all sign.

You may also consider installing apps that restrict phone usage when they detect a vehicle is in motion. (Everyone could benefit from these apps, not just teens!)

It is also important to maintain clear rules and consequences. Know when to take away the keys and restrict privileges, and don’t back down.

13. Show teen drivers YouTube videos of real-life tragedies

Chans Weber headshot
Chans Weber

Chans Weber, Founder & CEO, Leap Clixx

I believe that using case studies for topics such as this can play a huge part in never using a cell phone whilst driving ever again. Thousands die on the roads each week because of carelessness from other drivers using their mobile phones while driving.

Parents can use YouTube videos of some individuals explaining their experience of being hit by a careless driver or, even worse, those explaining the experience of losing a loved one due to someone not paying attention to the road.

14. Install a monitoring cell phone app

Melanie Musson headshot
Melanie Musson

Melanie Musson, Insurance Expert, AutoInsurance.org

Parents must lead by example. It’s hypocritical for a parent to tell their teen not to use a phone and then use one themselves while driving. Teens will pick up on the inconsistency immediately and be unlikely to listen. If parents want their teen to abstain from cell phone use while driving, they need to put the phone away while driving themselves, first.

If a parent and teen can work together to come up with a rewards plan for careful driving and avoiding distractions, it adds incentive for the teen to avoid distractions like using a cell phone.

15. Let teens know there can be deadly consequences

Clovis Chow headshot
Clovis Chow

Clovis Chow, TimeOrganizeStudy

Parents should explain to teens the rationale behind not using their cell phones while driving, such as a higher chance of accidents happening as they are not paying attention to the road.

These days, it is difficult to persuade teens to do something even though it is for their good. I think the last resort would be to show actual footage of an accident that occurred because the driver was looking at his/her cell phone.

16. Enroll your student in a defensive driving course

Bryan Truong headshot
Bryan Truong

Bryan Truong, GameCows

I went with the approach that my parents used for me. We enrolled our teen in a defensive driving course that offered hands-on experience driving under stressful situations. Some courses don’t do the traditional, scared straight approach with a slide show of horrific accidents. These courses can provide a skill set for teens that is useful and teaches respect for the road. 

17. Have a calm and respectful conversation

Amanda R Parr headshot
Amanda R Parr

Amanda R Parr, Voltage House

Depending on the teen-and the relationship that teen has with their parents-the only way to really get through to them that this is serious would be to talk to them calmly and respectfully. For most teens, that alone will be a huge shock. Explain it logically, rather than authoritatively, and make teens feel like it's their own choice whether to risk texting-and-driving (as long as they understand the risks).

Be sure to let teens know that this concept isn't a reflection on their driving, but rather that even the best drivers are out there driving amidst the worst drivers, and all it takes is one reckless driver, animal, or child running into the street and they will need to make a split-second decision that could save several lives - and that's even without any distractions while driving.

18. Model safe driving behavior

Marc Lamber headshot
Marc Lamber

Marc Lamber, Fennemore Craig

One high-tech solution is to have your teenagers download a Driving Mode app to their cellphones, which automatically sends I'm driving now replies to texts and calls, and holds all messages until you arrive. There are apps for Android devices, Apple phones, and a host of other high-tech solutions for both teens and parents.

There are also many low-tech ways to solve this problem, including having your kids take a pledge to never text and drive. Set an example for those around you, especially children and teenagers, and model safe driving behavior by keeping your attention on the road and away from blinking and ringing devices. Parents and teens can make an agreement that together, they won't use a cell phone for calls, texting, or emails while operating a car - and to avoid temptation, no one in the car will use electronic devices while the vehicle is in operation. So, at the start of a road trip, all devices go into a bag - and they don't come out until you arrive at your destination and you're safely stopped. Pull over when you need to make a call or send a message.

Educate family members that distracted driving is extremely dangerous, just like drunk driving or driving without a seat belt. Avoid calling or texting friends, colleagues, and family who you know are driving. Ask your employer to discourage working while driving, such as taking phone calls or responding to emails or text messages. Encourage legislation to mandate safe driving.

19. Utilize apps that encourage teens to stay off of the phone when driving

Kenna Cook headshot
Kenna Cook

Kenna Cook, Educator

Use Apple's Do Not Disturb While Driving Mode that hides notifications while your teen is behind the wheel. There are also apps you can install on your teen's phone that will encourage them to stay off the phone with prizes, like the rewards earning app Down For the Count. Or apps that will totally immobilize their phones, like the Lifesaver app, which locks the phone until the car has come to a stop. Also, make teens aware of the legal consequences of using devices while driving, such as tickets that can cost up to $1,000 in some states.

20. Consider downloading the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety app

Emma Harrington headshot
Emma Harrington

Emma Harrington, Shepherd Center

The Shepherd Center, a top-10 nationally ranked rehabilitation hospital for people with spinal cord and brain injury, has launched AutoCoach, a free mobile app to help teach parents how to teach their teens to drive safely and distraction-free. Shepherd Center’s certified driver rehabilitation specialists and injury prevention experts partnered with the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and CapTech to create AutoCoach.

The app: 1) lessens the anxiety and guesswork in teaching a teen to drive; 2) allows parents to monitor supervised driving time; 3) reduces risky driving behaviors; 4) equips parents to teach teens to drive and keeps parents involved in the process.

Conclusion

In this day and age, it’s even hard for some adults to put down the phone while driving, but if we want our teens to stay safe while driving and listen to our warnings, we need to start by setting the example. Kids often won't listen to the advice of parents, so using real-life examples and others as the storytellers of what can and does happen when we use a phone while driving is often one of the best ways to get the message across. When that doesn’t work, you could consider using a phone app to shut your kid’s device down while they are behind the wheel to help your teen stay safe while driving.


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