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Teens Distracted by Smartphone while Driving

Advice for Your Teen Who Drives With Their Friends

“Teens driving teens”—the phrase alone is enough to stress out any parent of a recently licensed child. More teens between 16 and 19 are in motor vehicle crashes each year than members of any other age group. Between smartphones, cars with more and more features, and the general chaos of the road, young drivers have enough to contend with. Factor in the added diversion of having other, equally distractible teens in the car, and it’s enough to make any parent want to simply put their kid on the bus. In fact, according to the CDC, the chance of an accident increases with each additional passenger.

But your teens learning to drive is a truly great thing. As a parent, you get time back in your day that you previously spent shuttling them back and forth between school, activities, and other destinations. Driving can also teach responsibility, and foster a positive sense of independence. To make sure things get off on the right wheel, here’s some advice to share with your teen who drives with their friends.

Teach them to ignore their phone (or at least use driving mode)

While the safest option might be to tell your teen or their driving friend to put their phone away entirely, it’s important to be realistic about what you can expect. Nowadays, kids are likely using their phones for directions and music, and the last thing you want is for them to be fumbling around in the glovebox to hit “skip” on a playlist or check their ETA as they approach a four-way stop.

Smartphones today are generally equipped with a “driving mode” that mutes notifications while preserving functionality. Talk to your teen about using this setting whenever they drive, and consider investing in a car mount for their phone, which will help keep it out of their hands while they’re on the road. It’s also advisable for your teen to get comfortable with voice commands (like the iPhone’s “Siri”) so they can turn up the volume without taking their hands off the wheel.

Even if your kid is a passenger in a car driven by another new driver, it may be wise to advise them to keep their phone put away for the duration of the ride, so they can help their friend stay focused. At the very least, suggest they keep their volume turned down.

Tell them to share their plans

Another way to make sure you and your teen are on the same page about their time on the road, either as a driver or a passenger, is to encourage them to share their plans with you. That means detailing who will be driving, where to, and when. That way, you have a sense of where they should be at what time, and who else to get in touch with if you can’t reach your kid. Of course teenagers may forget to give you the all-clear after a drive, so it always helps to know which of their friends to text, just in case.

Talk about what to do if there is a problem

Even if you’ve prepared them as best you can, you can never mitigate the risk for your child down to zero. There are always factors outside the control of you and your child—regardless of how responsible they may be—like weather conditions or the behavior of other drivers. This is especially true if you live somewhere that regularly faces conditions that complicate driving, like heavy rain or icy roads.

Before they get behind the wheel, talk with your teen about how to handle various issues that could crop up, and be sure they have a plan. This will also help to give you peace of mind. For example, if you’re in a snowy area, be sure you’ve talked with them about what to do if it begins to snow while they’re driving, and how to drive in winter conditions in general.

If your teen does get into a minor accident while driving, whether they were at fault or not, make sure they know how to navigate the car to a safe place to exchange insurance information with anyone else involved. Equipping them with a AAA membership can help ensure they have access to a certified car care professional 24/7, ready to help with any mechanical issues or offer a tow if needed, whether your child was the driver or a passenger. If you already have a AAA membership, you can add your teen driver for no extra cost.