There is little question that texting while driving is one of the most dangerous things a person can do behind the wheel. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the greatest concerns among parents of beginning drivers.
Texting is dangerous for all drivers, but particularly for young, novice drivers.
It’s not until teens have considerable experience under their belt that they begin to see and respond to the driving environment in the same way as more experienced drivers. Because driving is less of an automatic behavior for teens than experienced drivers, teens must focus more of their attention on driving. That means they are less equipped to manage potential distractions like a cell phone, a car full of passengers, or even loud music.
Reducing distracted driving among teens is not an easy problem for parents to address. But, through the troubling statistics and many tragic stories we've heard in the past few years, we know it's a problem parents can't afford to ignore.
First and foremost, parents must put down their own phones while driving. Whether you know it or not, your teens are watching your driving behavior. And though your teens might be the last to admit it or even know it, parents are the primary role models for driving. Stepping up by putting your own electronic devices down is one of the simplest and most important safety actions you can take.
But that’s not the only thing parents can do to help. Enhancing the amount and quality of driving practice during the learner's permit stage provides the experience teens need begin to developing an ingrained intuitive understanding of driving.
To address this problem, researchers here at the University of North Carolina have developed an iPhone app to support parents and guide them while they're supervising a new driver. Time to Drive is designed to help parents make sure their teens get more –and better– practice during the learner stage.
The app encourages more driving practice by recording the teen’s total amount of driving and encouraging supervised driving in a variety of challenging conditions. It also displays a map showing all the locations the teen has driven, again to encourage a greater range of experience.
Time to Drive works in the background while the car is being driven. At no time does it ask a driver to enter any input.
The app emits an audible warning when the teen brakes too hard to help teens learn to brake earlier and more smoothly. It also records a history of hard stops so parents can keep track of moments when their young driver might have been distracted.
In addition, the app provides tips for parents such as how to talk with their teens about driving and how to know when their teen is ready to drive unsupervised. And, when it's time to go to the state licensing agency, the app makes it easy to print a copy of the teen's driving log.
With more careful role models in the front seat, novice drivers will be better prepared to put their devices away when they first take the wheel. Then, with more rigorous guided driving practice, those drivers will be better equipped to handle the potential distractions and unexpected situations that sometimes occur while driving.