Teen Driving Safety: 11 Ways to Teach Teens To Put Down Their Devices

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November 5, 2020

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Table of Contents

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 teachers inform teens about the risks of using their devices while driving.

Before giving teens the keys to the car, parents teach driving safety– and now that must include teaching digital safety. So, how can parents and educators do their best to ensure teens aren’t getting distracted by their devices while driving?

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

Marielle Melling heashot
Marielle Melling

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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. 

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.


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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