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RSS By: Grinnell Mutual,

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The cell phone dilemma: Three ways you can help your teen avoid distracted driving

Jul 02, 2014

"Crazy and scary." 

This is how Shannon Arendt, director of personal lines support at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, describes her feelings about her two teenaged children when they get behind the wheel to drive. Cell phones just add more anxiety. 

"I want them to have their cell phones so if they have any issues they can make a call but I don’t want them to be on their phones while they’re driving," said Arendt, who tested her teens when they first learned to drive by calling them while they were driving. "If they would happen to answer, I would remind them they should not be looking at their phones or answering them while driving.

Nearly four out of five teens own a cell phone and over one-third own a smartphone, according to research from the Pew Research Internet Project. Three-quarters of teens text and the typical teen texts 60 times a day.

"Some teens get so engaged with their smartphones they feel they can’t do anything without them, even driving,"  said Kevin Dowling, assistant vice president for direct claims at Grinnell Mutual who also has two teenage drivers.

Talk with your teens about distracted driving

The combination of inexperience and overconfidence can have serious consequences for many teen drivers. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration estimates that 16 percent of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under 20. In addition, teenage drivers have the highest proportion of fatal crashes tied to distracted driving.Inexperience causes three-quarters of serious accidents for teens, according to analysis by The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute.

Grinnell Mutual recommends the following to help prevent crashes and help your teens be better, safer drivers:

1. Model good driving. 

Children imitate their parents, even at the earliest ages. With this in mind, the National Safety Council recommends setting a good example for your children whenever you are behind the wheel. Model good driving behaviors such as using turn signals, wearing seat belts, and avoiding distractions.

"It’s so easy for a parent to answer that phone when they are going down the road," said Arendt. "Your kids will think that is okay, too. The good things or the bad things, kids do pick up on them."

2. Discuss driving expectations. 

The National Safety Council (NSC) recommends setting expectations for your teens about distracted driving. As they meet expectations, reward them with new privileges. The NSC’s Parent-Teen Driving Agreement is one tool you and your teens can use to have conversations about expectations and rewards.

"When my teens were first learning to drive at 14, their eyes were focused on the road. I helped them with the things they may not see on their own," said Arendt. "Now I remind my teens to pay attention because you don’t always know what’s going to happen. Even though you drive the same road, it is different every day."

3. Practice driving with them. 

Practicing driving is a skill many teens value, yet research National Young Driver Survey reveals that only 15 percent of teens consider their peers to be inexperienced. By riding with your teen, you may help them gain the experience and confidence they need in a variety of driving situations. Many states also require supervised driving time as part of a graduated driver’s license (GDL). (View your state’s license requirements.)

Lessons for the road, lessons for life

The lessons parents teach in the car about distracted driving can also be lessons for life. 

"As a parent, I give our children positive affirmation about their driving abilities, while helping them understand the numerous risks," said Dowling. "To be successful at whatever you do, there is often an element of avoiding the distractions. As parents, we have to help them identify those distractions and help guide them, especially when it comes to driving." 

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