Distracted driving can ruin young lives

Checkup on Health

teen driver behind the wheel
Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. More than half of the teen patients treated for injuries at UC Davis Medical Center are injured in a motor vehicle collision.

The days before summer break are a good time to talk to your teen about the dangers of distracted driving and help to keep them safe while behind the wheel.

Getting a driver’s license can be one of the most exciting times in a teen’s life; they’ve taken driver’s education, passed the DMV exam and are now able to hit the open road. And while parents may be excited for their newly licensed teens, it is important to remember to discuss the dangers of distracted driving before handing over the keys.

As exciting as this time is in a young person’s life, it can also be the most dangerous — car crashes injure and kill more teens than anything else. 

More at risk than any other age group

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers. Driving-related injuries among teens in Sacramento are following the national trends, according to Christy Adams, coordinator for the UC Davis Trauma Prevention Program. 

“More than half of the teen patients we treat for injuries here at UC Davis Medical Center were injured in a motor vehicle collision,” says Adams.  “We see an average of one teen a day injured in a car crash."

New teen drivers are more at risk for car crashes than any other group of drivers.  This is in part because, being new, they have not had enough driving experience to have learned how to react in every situation. The biggest causes of teen car crashes are risky driving behavior like speeding and driving while texting.  

Distracted driving

So what is distracted driving? Anything that may divert the driver’s attention from the road, such as:

  • Using a cell phone
  • Talking to passengers
  • Eating or drinking
  • Adjusting the radio, cd, or mp3 player
  • Grooming
  • Using a GPS system

A quick response to a text message or a short phone call to a friend seem like harmless things to do while driving, but according to a study completed by the University of Utah, cell phone use while driving is as dangerous as driving with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent.

Tips for talking to teens

Some important facts and tips to remember when talking to your teen are:

  • Make sure you and your teen are following the three-step process of the California graduated driver’s license.  Each step must be passed before progressing to the next step to obtain licensure: learner's permit, provisional license and the tests for full driving privileges.
  • Remind your teen that talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device and texting while driving are both illegal in California.  According to the U.S.  Department of Transportation, text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55 mph of driving the length of an entire football field, blind.
  • Never get behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Don’t let passengers take your attention away from the road. If conversation becomes too much of a distraction, don’t be afraid to ask for quiet.
  • In a study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers analyzed a sample of 677 teen drivers involved in serious crashes. They compared the likelihood of driver distraction and risk-taking just before a crash, and 71 percent of male and 47 percent of of female drivers said they were distracted directly by their passengers.
  • Adjust the radio, cd, or mp3 player before starting out on the road or pull over if necessary.
  • If using a GPS, input your destination before departing, or pull over to use the device.

More resources

For more information on injury prevention, visit www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/injuryprevention/.

To learn more about the California graduated driver’s license and the three-step process, visit:

To read more about distracted teen driving, visit: