Three Key Strategies to Prevent Teen Distracted-Driving Crashes

By Bryan Delaney, NTSB Safety Advocate

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teens and, for today’s teens, distraction is a major factor in crash risk. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), dialing a phone number while operating a vehicle increases a teen’s risk of crash by 6 times, and texting while driving increases crash risk by 23 times.

The NTSB recognizes the importance of teen driver safety, and we’ve made numerous recommendations to prevent distracted driving and promote safe driving behaviors for these vulnerable road users. The following strategies can improve teen driver safety and reduce the risk of teen distracted-driving crashes.

Educate Teens on the Risk of Distracted Driving

Education is key to changing driving behaviors among teens. Parents should model safe driving behaviors, laying out expectations and enforcing consequences if rules are broken. Adults must remember that the driving habits they teach teens through formal education and informal instruction is only half the battle—they must also “walk the walk” by avoiding risky behaviors and teaching by example.

Teens must also set a positive example for their peers by buckling up; obeying the speed limit; avoiding distracted, drowsy, and impaired driving; and making sure their emergency information is up to date and accessible in case of a crash. Peer-to-peer education and accountability can foster a driving environment where distracted driving is unacceptable.

Ban Portable Electronic Devices While Driving

States have a role in preventing teen distracted driving. For a decade, the NTSB has recommended that states prohibit the nonemergency use of all portable electronic devices, except those designed to aid the driving task, while driving. We need a cultural shift to put human life at the center of our transportation system over perceived productivity or social engagement. Driving distracted must become as unacceptable as driving impaired by alcohol or other drugs—for both adult and teen drivers.

Establish a Comprehensive Graduated Driver License Law

All states have some form of a graduated driver license (GDL) program, but no state has a comprehensive program with all provisions to minimize driving risks for teens. As outlined below, the NTSB recommends that all states establish a comprehensive, three-phase GDL law for teen drivers to gain driving experience before obtaining a full license. The following GDL provisions can help states improve overall teen driving and reduce crashes resulting from inexperience.

  • Phase 1: Learner’s permit
    • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault driver or traffic violation)
    • Supervised driver requirement with supervising driver age 21 or older
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
    • Cell phone use prohibited while driving
  • Phase 2: Intermediate (provisional) license
    • 6-month minimum holding period (without an at-fault crash or traffic violation)
    • Nighttime driving restriction
    • Teen passenger restriction (up to 1 passenger)
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level prohibited
    • Cell phone use prohibited while driving
  • Phase 3: Full licensure
    • Seat belts used by all occupants in all seating positions
    • Driving with a measurable blood alcohol level by all drivers under age 21 prohibited

Distraction is impairing. Even cognitive distraction slows your reaction time, and visual and manual distraction might make it impossible to see or avoid a hazard. All drivers—but especially teens, among whom distraction is pervasive—should keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel, and their phones in the glovebox.

No text, email, or notification is worth a life.

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