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Put Your Seatbelt On, Put Your Phone Away... Helping Teens Become Safe Drivers
Categories: Brain Injury

Question

No matter where he is or what he is doing, my teenage son is always texting on his cell phone. How can I get through to him that it is dangerous to text and drive?

Answer

“Not only is it dangerous, it is illegal in many states, including Massachusetts, where people caught texting and driving pay a $100 fine for the first offense,” says Jennifer Silber-Carr, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Clinical Director of the May Center School for Brain Injury and Neurobehavioral Disorders. “In fact, Massachusetts has banned drivers under 18 from using cell phones in any way when they are behind the wheel.”
 
Every day, more than 16 people are killed and 1,300 injured in motor vehicle accidents involving a distracted driver. The highest proportion of distraction-related fatal accidents involves teenage drivers.
 
“Tragically, motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of teens and young adults and the number one cause of traumatic brain injury in the U.S.,” adds Dr. Silber-Carr.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of distracted driving:

  • Visual – taking your eyes off the road;

  • Manual – taking your hands off the wheel; and

  • Cognitive – taking your mind off your driving.

 
Drivers are distracted not only when they text or read text messages, but also when they talk on their cell phones, eat, drink, or chat with passengers while they are driving. Although all distractions are safety concerns, texting while driving is particularly dangerous because it combines all three types of distractions.
 
Because they are often distracted while driving and because they are more likely to speed and less likely to wear seatbelts than older drivers, teens are at greater risk for being killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle accidents. Teenage males, young people driving with teen passengers, and newly licensed teens who lack driving experience are particularly at risk.
 
Drinking and driving is also a major concern for teenage drivers. Statistics reveal that nine young people die every day in alcohol-related crashes. Many of these fatalities are caused by traumatic brain injuries that, in most cases, are preventable. “For those young people who survive a life-threatening brain injury, long-lasting effects may impair their ability to function well at school, home, and in other settings,” says Dr. Silber-Carr.
 
Fortunately, there are some ways to help teens become safe drivers. Many states are now using Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) systems for teen drivers that help raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and other safety concerns. GDL programs are designed to delay full licensure while allowing teens to get driving experience in low-risk conditions. According to the CDC, comprehensive GDL programs are associated with reducing driving fatalities by 40% and injuries by 38% among 16-year-old drivers. For more information about GDL programs, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/phlp/publications/type/gdl.html
 
Other helpful websites include:
http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Pages/Public_Education.aspx
and
http://www.fcc.gov/cib/driving_clearinghouse.html
 
 
Dr. Jennifer Silber-Carr is the Clinical Director of the May Center School for Brain Injury and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Brockton, Mass.
 
May Institute also operates schools for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities in Randolph, West Springfield, and Wilmington, Mass., and in Santa Cruz, Calif. For more information, call 800-778-7601.