There is always a possibility of something unexpected happening on the road. When someone is driving, another vehicle could make a sudden stop, a pedestrian could step off the curb unpredictably or dangerous debris could fall onto the roadway. If a driver is not paying full attention when something unexpected occurs, he or she may not be able to react fast enough to avoid a collision.

Driving distractions cause thousands of deaths across the country each year. In Maryland, most drivers who were distracted at the time of a crash were teenagers. Distracted driving can be especially dangerous when paired with a new driver’s inexperience behind the wheel. However, parents can help teens make safe driving decisions.

Make sure your teen knows the risks

You can supervise your teen driver to make sure he or she is practicing safe habits, but you probably will not always be in the car when your teen drives. This is why it can be important to talk with your teen about distracted driving and remind him or her of the risks associated with this behavior.

Using a cellphone while driving is against the law in Maryland, unless the driver is using a hands-free device. However, the use of a hands-free device does not necessarily make cellphone use safe.

Driving distractions can be manual, visual or cognitive. This means that even if your teen does not hold his or her phone, reading a text message or talking on the phone can still be driving distractions.

Other distractions that teen drivers may feel tempted to indulge in, include talking with passengers, changing the music, daydreaming, checking social media, eating, drinking, applying makeup, adjusting temperature controls and looking at a GPS device. Any activity that takes your child’s hands off the wheel, eyes off the road or mind off driving can be a distraction.

Help create an action plan

Simply explaining the legal risks and safety risks associated with distracted driving may not be enough to prevent your teen from engaging in this behavior. Other ways you can support safe driving habits include:

  • Setting a good example. When you are driving, do not take phone calls, check text messages or adjust controls. If you have passengers in the car, you may consider asking one of them to answer urgent calls or adjust controls on your behalf.
  • Helping your teen create a pre-drive routine. This may include adjusting temperature controls, setting up music and stowing away the cellphone.
  • Working with your teen to determine appropriate alternatives to driving distractions. For example, to avoid cellphone use, your teen may text his or her friends before driving to let them know that he or she will be out of touch. Alternatively, your teen could pull off to the side of the road, if he or she must take a call or check a message.
  • Encouraging your teen to speak up. If he or she is in a friend’s vehicle, your teen should feel comfortable speaking against distracted driving. Teens often have a strong influence over the behavior of other teens, and by speaking out, your teen may encourage others to adopt safer driving habits.

There may always be a possibility of something unexpected happening when your teen is driving. However, if your teen is paying full attention to driving, he or she will have the best possible chance of avoiding a collision.