Updated: May 24
The National Safety Council, which is on a mission to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2050, sponsors Distracted Driving Awareness month every April to advocate for safer driving. If you know me at all, you know that I highlight the dangers of distracted driving every month – actually every day. But let’s drill down on some of the most common distractions and how to adjust your habits. Remember, if you’re a parent coaching a teen driver, they are learning far more from watching you than listening to you.
Driving is Not the Time for Multi-Tasking
Whether or not you think you can mentally focus on more than one task at the same time (you can’t – no one can), driving is always a single task event. When behind the wheel, all of your attention must be on the road. That means take care of anything that involves your phone before you start the car. Review the directions to where you’re going before you get in the car, and plug all of the info into GPS before you start moving. It also means finishing that sandwich before putting both hands on the wheel. Once the car is in motion, you are responsible for practicing safe driving skills for the benefit of everyone in and around your car. Remember that safety is always more important than any other task you think you could accomplish while driving.
Don’t Rely on Technology
The new technology in cars these days is doing some pretty cool stuff. From lane assist to self-parallel parking our cars are like big, moving computers! These technologies can be helpful, but they can also be distracting. If a new driver comes to rely on these bells and whistles more than watching the road and surrounding environment - that’s a bad recipe. Drivers need to put their full focus into driving, and slowly becoming dependent on technology can prevent that. If your car has the option to turn off some of these technologies, it can be helpful for new drivers to practice without them.
Is the Radio Pulling Your Attention Off the Road?
When coaching your teen driver, it’s best to turn the radio off completely. The extra noise makes it harder to hear each other, so don’t create an extra hassle by having to repeat yourselves. For new drivers, when they are learning and even after they get the license, no music or radio is best.
But what are best practices for experienced drivers when driving alone? In general, don’t listen to anything on your car’s radio that is going to spike your adrenaline, lull you into a trance, or distract your mind from driving. Music that is too loud or with a heavy beat may get you too riled up, while some rhythmic or especially soothing sounds may be too calming. Stick to music that you’re familiar with and works as background noise to help you stay alert and focused. When it comes to talk radio, be careful. If you become more mentally engaged in the conversations on the air, you may not be paying attention to the road in front of you. I know that listening to the radio while driving is simply automatic for most people, but make a conscious effort to notice how what you listen to affects your level of distraction while driving.
As your teen gets older and has more experience driving, they might be able to drive safely with a little background music. When you talk about what your teen is listening to in the car, remember that their natural inclination is to reject your opinions on their music. Come to this conversation from the perspective of focus and energy management. Whatever kind of auditory environment helps your teen study is the one that will help them drive. This might mean quiet music for some, but others might need to accept that they require silence in order to practice safe driving skills.
Un-distract Your Life!
Try this exercise - just for one hour of your work or school day, make a hash mark on a piece of scrap paper every time you realize that you’re thinking of something other than the task right in front of you. At the end of the hour, how many hash marks do you have? Do you think you probably forgot to make a few on top of that? The human mind can be a very busy place, and most of us are thinking about something other than what we’re doing quite often. There are all kinds of philosophical discussions we could have about this topic, but the bottom line is that we could all benefit from being generally more focused on the life happening right in front of us at a given moment.
Practicing mindfulness is getting to be a popular topic, and people go about it in various ways. Whether it’s meditation, fasting from electronics regularly, or verbally redirecting your attention, think about what it would mean for your day to stop thinking about all the other things that enter your brain and just think about the task in front of you.
Perhaps this is a good family exercise. Teens are incredibly stressed out and overwhelmed by schoolwork, social drama, and the effects of hormones on their emotional and mental state. How can you help your teen driver settle their mind in all things, not just driving? As your family finds ways to stay in the present moment, you’ll find distractions falling away. This will improve everyone’s ability to drive safely, and probably your day-to-day well-being as well!
It should come as no surprise that when you’re sleep-deprived, you’re less able to focus. Teens are notorious for having weird sleep schedules. Driving while drowsy is a major risk factor for teens and all drivers! When your brain hasn’t had the sleep it needs, your thought processes actually slow down. This means your judgment is impaired, and this is a very dangerous situation on the road. As I always say, when you’re driving you need to expect the unexpected! This includes being able to respond to whatever happens on the road. If you’re tired, you might not be able to do that fast enough.
As a parent, you should work with your child to make sure they are getting the proper amount of sleep so that they can give their full attention while driving, and in every area of their life.
If you want to instill good driving habits in your teen, you need to practice what you preach and demonstrate good driving. When it comes time for teaching your teen how to drive, there are some best practices that you can do to help make those lessons more productive. Check out some of our resources so that you and your teen can have a positive and focused experience with learning to drive.
Download A FREE copy of the Safe Driving Coach: Parents Guide, 5 Solutions to Common Teen Driving Mistakes.
Sign up for the Parent’s Survival Guide for New Teen Drivers online course for parents who want to know how to better coach their teens how to drive!
For those located in and around Ambler, PA in Montgomery and Bucks county, signing your teen up for defensive driving lessons is also one of the best things you can do for them! Learn more about our Behind-the-Wheel lessons here.