One of my Freshman students came into class the other day with this story. He and three friends had been driving to the mall on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. NO ONE WAS WEARING SEAT BELTS!!!! The driver, looking down at her phone to change the music, slams into the car in front of her who had stopped short. Because she was paying attention to her tunes not her driving, she missed his slow-down. Amazingly only the front seat passenger was injured. He hit the windshield and ended up with a 7 inch laceration on his head. Cradling his friend, waiting for the ambulance to arrive, my student was covered in blood! This is a thank the f**king lord moment that no one was killed!
How do we communicate to our teens that seat belts are a non-negotiable and driving distracted can injure and kill. Let's start with the seat belts. If you have a teen who is a soon to be a driver, is already a driver or goes in cars with friends here is a way you can assess their seat belt safety. When they get in the car, do they automatically put on their seat belt, or do they need your prompt to remember? If they need your prompt than here is a strategy: Let them know that they will not be allowed to take the car or drive in their friends cars until you see that they remember to put their seat belt on without reminders from you!! You should also test their ability to make sure their passengers are wearing selt belts by not putting on yours when they are driving in the car with you as a passenger. You need to teach them to be aware of what is going on in their car when they are the driver. If they are ferrying around their friends, then they must make sure that their passengers are safe. Again, unless they can learn to do this, no car!!! In the story above, the driver needed to take a look around her car, see that no one had on a seat belt, and remind everyone to buckle up!!! Never just assume that since they put their seat belt on that they will be aware of the passengers in their car. They need you to teach them!!!!
As for driving distracted, whether it's texting, or changing their playlist to something that better meets their mood requirements, your teens should not have their phones within easy reach. It is just too tempting!!!!! Practice with them what they will do with their phones when they get into the car to drive. Will it be put in the glove compartment, in their purse, where?? This needs to become a ritual, and making something become a ritual takes repetition repetition repetion. And that is your job to get them to rehearse. If you have a soon to be driver, 15 1/2 year old. Let them know that if they want to get their license they will need to start practicing being in a car with using a cell phone... HORRORS!!!! Like in any classical conditioning experiment, your teen needs to start associating being in the car without being on their phone. It is as simple as that. This is not intuitive for your teen, and truly not for most adults. Just look at your own phone behavior in the car!!!!