The dangers of distracted driving: 3 things parents can do


Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of teen death and injury in the United States. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2019 distracted driving caused 15 percent of injury crashes and 9 percent of fatal crashes. To mark Distracted Driving Awareness Month, we talked with Trauma Prevention and Outreach Coordinator Christy Adams, to discuss ways that parents and families can keep their teenage drivers safe behind the wheel. 

Female using cell phone while driving
Cellphone use while driving can lead to car accidents.

“Here at UC Davis Medical Center, we treat over 300 young drivers every year who were injured in preventable crashes,” Adams said. “The injuries we treat are often severe with life-long consequences like brain injury, paralysis, chronic pain, even death. Again, the sad part is that these injuries could have been prevented.” 

What types of distractions are causing car crashes?

We always ask trauma patients if they remember what happened when they got hurt. I have heard teens describe countless types of distractions that caused their crashes, from eating food and taking pictures to changing clothes in the car while driving.  

Why is getting distracted when you drive so dangerous?

Any time you take your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel, even for a second, you give up control of your car.

People take it for granted that cars are safe or that they’re good drivers. But we see first-hand what happens when they lose control in that split second and how much damage a vehicle can cause. 

Is driving distracted more of a problem for teens than older drivers?

Distracted driving is dangerous regardless of your age. For teen drivers, the lack of driving experience makes any type of distraction even more dangerous. New drivers are less prepared to make split-second driving decisions that may prevent a collision. When their attention is pulled away from driving, they have even less time to react. 

Are all the car crash injuries you treat in teens due to distracted driving?

Distractions and inexperience are the most common causes of teen crashes. But we also see the consequences of reckless driving choices, like speeding, driving while intoxicated and not wearing a seat belt. 

Teens can sometimes be a tough audience to reach. What can parents do to improve the safety of their children as they start driving?

I’d say that there are three things that parents can do: 

  1. Set a good example. We know children follow their parents’ actions more than their words. This goes for teens, too. It’s going to be hard for any parent to convince their child not to use a phone while driving if they’re doing it themselves. 
  2. Talk to your teens about distractions so they understand it’s more than just texting. 
  3. Enforce the restrictions of the California provisional license laws. Provisional licenses are special restrictions for new drivers. We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in teen driving fatalities in states like California that require provisional licenses for new drivers, but parents need to help enforce. The provisional licenses set restrictions on driving teen passengers and driving after 11 p.m. without adult supervision. This is really important because we know that having multiple teen passengers in the car can quadruple the risk of a crash. 

What is UC Davis Health doing to address the problem of teen distracted driving?

Our Trauma Prevention and Outreach Program offers free classroom education to schools in the Sacramento area. For more information or to schedule a presentation, contact 916-734-9798. 

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