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April was National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. In celebration, a recent article in the Huffington Post reviewed the efforts that have been made of late to reduce the risk of accidents resulting from distracted driving. The piece takes a novel look at the problem by applying something called the Social Norms Approach.

What is the social norms approach?

Essentially, the social norms approach is one that assumes the actual occurrence of an activity is not appropriately reflected in official studies. In this instance, it is argued that people engaging in healthy behavior, i.e. refraining from distracting practices like texting while driving is actually much higher than believed. In contrast, those who are engaging in unhealthy behaviors are much lower than believed. As a result, those who are implementing healthy practices may actually be in the majority and those who are not are in the minority. This information is basically used as a positive method of peer pressure, encouraging those who are making poor decisions to alter their practices. According to the article, this method can be particularly effective with teenagers.

Are teens texting while driving?

Unfortunately, the answer is still yes. The good news is that the numbers are lower than many believe. Over two-thirds of teens ranging in age from 16 to 18 are not texting while driving. However, the rate of texting while driving increases with age, with a reported 42 percent of those ranging in age from 19 to 24 texting while driving and 45 percent of those from ages 25 to 29.

Although the fact that there are generally fewer teens texting while driving is good news, it is important to keep in mind just how dangerous distracted driving is for young drivers. Approximately half of the accidents teens get into are connected to distracted driving practices and teen crash fatality rates are almost three times as high as any other age group. As a result, it remains important to teach teenagers about these dangers and encourage them to put down their phones while they are driving.

How can we help teens to make better decisions?

There are some practical tips that can help:

  • Put it down. Encourage teenagers to take their phones out of their pockets and put them down somewhere in the car where the phone is unreachable. It is also a good idea to silence the phone, so the reminder of updates and incoming messages is not distracting.
  • Shut it off. If temptation is too great, you may want to have an "in the car, phone off" rule. You could monitor this by reviewing the phone bill to see if calls were made or texts were sent during times that you know the child would be behind the wheel.
  • Take it away. If phone use while driving continues to be a problem, take away the distraction. Taking away a phone for a short period may help your child realize how serious you are about these rules.

These may seem harsh, but teaching a young driver to safely operate a motor vehicle can save not only his or her life, but anyone else that could be unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of a crash.

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Bonifield & Rosenstengel
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Belleville, IL 62220

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