Politics
3:07 pm
Wed May 8, 2013

Push To End Teens' Distracted Driving Targets Parents, Peers

Originally published on Wed May 8, 2013 3:55 pm

The statistics are grim: Highway crashes are the leading cause of death for young Americans. While such fatalities had declined in recent years, overall highway deaths were up last year. Deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from the previous year, based on preliminary data.

The government has preached a message of "don't text and drive" and has encouraged students to produce their own public service announcements:

At a rally at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., advocates kicked off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. Elliot Johnson, an 18-year-old high school senior from Brookings, S.D., has led efforts among his peers to raise awareness of the risks of distracted driving.

"You have to start early enough where kids know that pulling out your cellphone while you're driving is just not OK, and that will become embedded in their minds," he says. "I think what we're doing is really spreading awareness, for sure, but I think starting at the young level is really where it's going to happen for the generations to come."

Parental involvement may be even more important. That includes working with teens to develop their driving skills and being role models.

"I think too many parents — we're all guilty of doing as I say not as I do," says Deborah Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. "What you really need to do is model that behavior because they are watching you, and you are actually one of the best indicators of what your child's behavior is going to be."

Hersman says graduated licenses, developed in the past two decades and now the law in all 50 states, have helped make teen driving safer.

"Giving kids better experience behind the wheel, more supervision, making sure that they don't have a lot of teen passengers in the car with them — if you've got four teenagers in the car, you're four times as likely to have a fatal crash — nighttime driving restrictions, portable electronic device restrictions, those are the things that really help," she says.

The next step may be to formalize the parents' role in getting their kids licensed. While it may be the last thing any teenager wants, a pilot project in Virginia, for example, requires parents and teens to take a drivers' safety class together before taking part in a licensing ceremony together before a judge.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Memorial Day is fast approaching and with it, the summer driving season. For parents of teen drivers, it's an especially fraught time. Statistics show the greatest number of teen driving fatalities occur in the summer months. NPR's Brian Naylor reports on a new campaign meant to change that.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The statistics are grim. Highway crashes are the leading cause of death for young Americans. And while such fatalities had been declining in recent years, last year, overall highway deaths were up. Deaths of 16- and 17-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from the previous year, based on preliminary data.

The government has preached a message of don't text and drive and has encouraged students to produce their own public service announcements.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please fasten your seatbelts for unexpected turbulence.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The chances of being a victim in an airline crash, one in 29 million. The chance of being involved in a car accident if you are texting, your risk increases 23 times.

NAYLOR: At a rally at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, advocates kicked off Global Youth Traffic Safety Month. Eighteen-year-old Elliot Johnson, a high school senior from Brookings, South Dakota, has been leading efforts among his peers to raise awareness of the risks of distracted driving.

ELLIOT JOHNSON: You have to start early enough where kids know that pulling out your cell phone while you're driving is just not OK, and that will become embedded in their minds for future generations. And I think this awareness is great. And I think what we're doing is really spreading awareness, for sure, but I think starting at the young level is really where it's going to happen for the generations to come.

NAYLOR: Parental involvement may be even more important. That includes working with teens to develop their driving skills and being a role model. Deborah Hersman chairs the National Transportation Safety Board.

DEBORAH HERSMAN: You know, I think, more than anything, parents need to set the example that they want their kids to follow. I think too many parents - and, you know, we're all guilty of doing as I say not as I do. What you really need to do is model that behavior because they are watching you, and you are actually one of the best indicators of what your child's behavior is going to be.

NAYLOR: Hersman says graduated licenses developed in the last two decades and now the law in all 50 states have helped make teen driving safer.

HERSMAN: Giving kids better experience behind the wheel, more supervision, making sure that they don't have a lot of teen passengers in the car with them. If you've got four teenagers in the car, you're four times as likely to have a fatal crash. Nighttime driving restrictions, portable electronic device restrictions, those are the things that really help.

NAYLOR: The next step may be to formalize the parents' role in getting their kids licensed. It may be the last thing any teenager wants, but in Virginia, for example, a pilot project requires teens and parents to take a drivers' safety class together before taking part in a licensing ceremony together before a judge. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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