a blog for parents of teen drivers



April 2014
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I recently had the honor of being the luncheon speaker at the 16th Annual Connecticut Trauma Conference – doctors, nurses, EMT’s, trauma center administrators, law enforcement, and others connected to traumas services at Connecticut’s hospitals.  My topic was “Who Delivers?  Communicating the Dangers of Driving.”  My three focuses were:  Where does our society get its information about driving in general and teen driving in particular?  What information is not being delivered?  And what is the obligation and role of people like myself — parents, survivors, advocates — and members of the trauma community, who are on the front lines of dealing with the dangers of driving?

I first observed that our society too often treats driving injuries and fatalities as hardly newsworthy – so commonplace as to be local news, the price of our mobile society.  I noted that it is often the multiple fatality crashes (like the one in northern California on April 10th) that get regional or national attention.  I reviewed with my audience the cautions about the dangers of teen driving that I bring up when I speak to parents — all highlight what information is generally not being provided to by the most visible sources.

In the last part of my remarks, I raised nine questions, all aimed at getting my listeners to think about where the gaps are and how we can address them:

1.  Why do parents’ worries not align with causes? I pointed out that many times, parents worry more about what might be called cataclysms and catastrophes — terrorism, kidnapping, and predators — when the more frequents causes of injury or death to children are car crashes, homicide, suicide, and drowning.

2.  Where do parents get most of their information about teen driving? I pointed out at motor vehicle departments are well meaning and hardworking, but have limited resources, and can’t be expected to provide detailed advice on day-to-day parenting.  I mentioned that many sources of information also, in part, have a vested interested in teens driving:  driver education schools, auto manufacturers, insurers, cell phone providers, personal injury lawyers.  I noted that the remaining sources are medical professional, traffic safety professions, victims, and survivors, and asked what their role is relative to the businesses and government agencies.

3.  If the judgment and restraint functions of the human brain are not fully developed until age 22-25, why do states allow driving at 14-17?  I pointed out at the driving age is not based on the current science but on tradition, and maybe also parent convenience taking precedence over safety.

4.  Why do we make cars that can be driven more than 75 miles per hour? I noted that there are no roads on which one can legally drive faster than 75 or 80, so why do we allow cars that can exceed 100 MPH?  We have the technology to limit speeds.

5.  Why does the federal government only have advisory guidelines for distracting electronics? I asked why so many aspects of federal regulation put new products through rigorous safety inspections and tests before they are available to the general public, but not in-vehicle electronics?

6.  When the world’s leading health and traffic safety organizations agree that hands-free electronics are as risky as hand-held, why do 40 states ban hand-held but only 10 ban hands-free? Again, our laws are based on tradition; legislation is slow to respond to current science.  I noted that the modern drunk driving movement began in the last 1980’s when a driver with several DUI convictions plowed into a school bus and killed 25 children – are we waiting for a similar crash involving distracting electronics before we get more serious about electronic distraction?

7.  Why do distracted driving laws not cover GPS devices or the dashboard mounted, Internet connected, interactive screens and functions that are becoming so prevalent? I pointed out that most electronic distraction laws focus on cellphones, not dashboard mounted screens; many of these laws are very complicated; and many of them exempt “navigation” and “audio”, which leaves the use of interactive screens uncovered by these laws.

8.  We ban cigarette advertising on public airways, so why don’t we ban automobile sales that show during that is dangerous and illegal on all public roads? So much of television advertising shows extremely risky driving, with the words “professional driver, closed course, do not attempt.”

9.  Has our focus on Graduated Driver Licensing created a new group of 18-20 years olds who are avoiding the GDL system? I noted that nationally there is mounting evidence on this issue (and many traffic safety organizations are looking into it).  I noted this as a possible example of how our well-intentioned teen driver laws can have unintended consequences.

I ended by observing that since I have become involved in teen driving, it has been my privilege to work together with many medical professionals, focusing on getting the best possible information and advice parents, and that it has been a privilege to do so.  I gave a shout-out to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Yale-New Haven Hospital for their energetic support of teen driving safety in general, and my efforts in particular.

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On Sunday April 6, I had the pleasure of participating in a safe teen driving event/exposition put on by CruiseSafe,, in Stevensville Maryland.  On April 10, 2013, four teens aged 17-19 died in a crash in Stevensville, on Kent Island, which is part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  As part of the community’s recovery from this tragedy, several of the mothers of the four teens, led by Suzanne Elzey whose son Tyler was one of the victims, formed CruiseSafe, and put together the April 6 event.  It was a beautiful day.  The groups participating included the area’s emergency and safety services, law enforcement, public health groups, and traffic safety organizations.  The Stevensville community faces a very difficult week as it marks the one year anniversary of the crash, but the April 6 event showed that the community has rallied around the families, and the families are bring a loud and clear message of safer teen driving to their community.   It was a privilege to be part of it.

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Showing this month on West Hartford, Connecticut Community Television is an interview about Not So Fast, including a segment with two mothers of teen drivers who read the book and found it helpful.  My thanks to WHC TV, to host Sara Conner, and to parents Karen Hammond and Anne Carney.

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On Sunday March 30 The New York Times Automobile section featured an article by John Quain, “Battle of the Dash:  Tech Companies Try To Get Their Apps in a Row.”  The link is below.  The articles describes the latest new technology for in-vehicle, dashboard-mounted screens, and the issues that technology companies and auto manufacturers are going to face when deciding whether and how to install this new system in cars — and then how drivers will try to use them.  The article illustrates many of the concerns raised on this blog about evolving electronic distraction for drivers; how the problem seems to be getting worse, not better; and for parents of teen drivers, how this whole issue magnifies their position as role models:  the more distracting electronics there are in cars, the harder it will be for parents to warn their teens about the dangers of texting and other electronic distractions.

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It’s not my objective to endorse one commercial product over another, and this post is not a product endorsement.  However, the attached link describes the type of teen driver monitoring technology that I recommend to parents.  This is not an app that disables or controls texting, but a real time way of monitoring the speed, acceleration, and location of a teen driver’s car, with a feed to a cellphone so parents can monitor their teens driving.  This type of supervision is available in a variety of products currently on the market, and this post is just a reminder that this type of technology is the most useful and least intrusive type.  Thanks to Dwight Merriam for sending this link.

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In mid-January, Travelers released the results of a large nationwide survey of licensed teen drivers, ages 16 to 18, and their parents.  The study, conducted in October 2013, involved 1,002 teen drivers (65 percent female, 35 percent male), and 1,004 parents of licensed teens. That is, this study was large and comprehensive enough to command our attention.  While confirming a variety of points about parent-teen communication about driving, the survey also contains several results that reveal stark differences between teens and parents about driving risk — differences that should constitute a wakeup call for parents.

Many of the survey’s statistics affirm what we would expect — and hope for — in parent-teen driver relationships:

  • 90 percent of licensed teens have had a “talk” with a parent about safe teen driving;
  • Parents’ confidence in their young drivers, and teens’ confidence in their own driving, are comparable, and increase with the teen driver’s age;
  • Teens view their parents as critical role models for their driving skills and attitudes;
  • Parents are most often a teen’s first driving instructor, but this role eventually gives way to a professional instructor, and that instructor is generally regarded as better suited to teach a teen;
  • Boys are more confident in their driving than girls;
  • About one third of teens experience peer pressure (that is, from other teens) while driving;
  • Driver Education classes and state Motor Vehicle Departments are the primary sources for families of safe driving information.

These are the results we can celebrate.  But the survey goes on to report on several troubling “disconnects”:

  • Those teens who have not had a safe driving discussion with a parent had double the number of crashes as those who had the benefit of such a talk;
  • Only about 43 percent of parents and teens reported having ongoing talks, after the teen got his or her license, about safe driving; and
  • Parents and teens reported vastly different levels of concern about several risky driving behaviors, with 65 percent of teens reporting being very concerned about driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs,  but only 14 percent of parents; and 56 percent of teens being concerned about distracted driving, compared to 35 percent of parents.

Dissecting and interpreting the results of a large survey like this is always a tricky and inexact task, but the “disconnects” reported by Travelers strongly suggest the following:

  • Less than half of parents are maintaining proactive day by day oversight over their teens after they get their license, which suggests that these parents believe that once their teen passes the State’s road test and graduates from Driver’s Ed, a parent’s role may diminish because the teen is now a relatively safe driver;
  • Probably because they are not communicating after  licensed driving begins, a majority of parents are not in tune with what aspects of driving are troubling to their teens, and where additional instruction and oversight would be welcome; and
  • A large number of newly-licensed teen drivers are concerned by a combination of their own fears, their parent’s inattentiveness to those fears, and their feeling that they are not going to get any more help other than continuing to drive more until they feel comfortable.

All of the above points directly to several parts of the advice I provide to parents regularly:  (1) don’t assume that a teen driver who has finished Driver’s Ed and has a license is anything other than a beginner undertaking a very dangerous activity; (2) treat driving like flying, by acting like an air traffic controller with your teen driver, reviewing a safety checklist and readiness to driver each and every time your new driver gets behind the wheel, for at least the first six to nine months of driving; and (3) in addition to “The Talk,” don’t’ forget about “the Agreement” — a good Parent-Teen Driving Agreement in which parents and teens acknowledge the dangers of teen driving and agree to a set of clear rules about how each of those dangers (passengers, curfews, seat belts, electronic devices, alcohol and drugs, etc.) will be handled, and what will happen if the teen driver violates the Agreement or the law.

Travelers has done us a great service by taking the considerable time to confirm the key points on which parents and teens seem to be doing well, while also spotlighting the key points of current misunderstanding to which every parent of a new teen driver should pay close attention.

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I have gotten a bunch of emails asking me when and where I will be speaking/presenting about safe teen driving and my new book, Not So Fast.  As of today (March 16, 2014), here is the schedule.  Please note this includes public events as well as a few private events.  If anyone needs more details, please email me at  Unless noted at each event, copies of Not So Fast will be for sale or distribution.

Thursday March 27, Temple Beth El, West Hartford, CT

Friday March 28 – Keynote Speaker, Connecticut Trauma Association Luncheon, Foxwoods/Ledyard, CT

Month of April – Broadcast throughout the month of public affairs program on West Hartford Community Television, hosted by Sara Conner

Sunday April 6, safe teen driving event, Stevensville, Maryland, hosted by CruiseSafe.

Wednesday April 16, South Windsor High School, South Windsor CT, 7 PM

Monday April 21, taping of Cooperative Kids TV show, Enfield, Ct, 6:30 PM

Wednesday April 23, Fitch High School, Groton Ct, 7 PM

Sunday – Monday April 27-28, Lifesavers Conference, Nashville, Tenn.; guest of the Century Council at their booth, distributing complimentary copies of Not So Fast

Tuesday April 29, Community of Concern event, Conard High School,  West Hartford, Ct, 7PM

Thursday May 1 – attend Global Youth Traffic Safety Day events, Washington, D.C.

Thursday May 8, Westchester County Family Services event, at the new Raymour and Flannigan Showroom, White Plains, New York, 7 PM

Monday – Tuesday May 19-20 – Teens in the Driver’s Seat conference, San Antonio, Texas.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks!

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At a recent meeting of safe teen driving advocates and traffic safety professionals, I heard a new one:  about parents having their teen drivers be their designated drivers, so they can drink at parties.

Not sure what to think about this one.

On the one hand, keeping people potentially impaired by alcohol off the road is a good thing, a responsible choice.  However, it would seem that asking a teen driver to be a designated driver for an adult/parent likely would involve driving after a state’s curfew (11 PM or midnight in many states).  And this arrangement raises questions:  are the parents being good role models?  Being safe and being a role model can be two different things.  Also, this designated driver role potentially puts teens in a position of forced responsibility.  I surmise that not many teens would volunteer for this designated driver role.  It may be that parents, who control the keys, are bargaining their teens into this role — “Drive for us tonight and you will get more freedom to drive on your own at another time.”  The designated driver role could also involve the teen driving while fatigued, and driving in bad weather, as I doubt parents cancel party plans based on bad weather to the same degree they control a new driver’s time on the road.

This arrangement seems good for parents in the sense of keeping them off the road when impaired, but I am not sure I see much that is good for teen drivers.

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Newly-elected New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio is moving quickly on many fronts, and one of them is to reduce the City’s frightening number of pedestrian fatalities — 176 in 2013.

DeBlasio’ s administration has issued a 42 page plan that is based on a Swedish program called “Vision Zero,” which is based on the philosophy that every traffic-related fatality is preventable, and sets a goal of zero deaths.  New York’s Plan includes some conventional and sometimes controversial ideas such as more red light cameras. The Mayor says the City will not rely on citywide blitz of jaywalking tickets.  The program will, however, include such items as wider parking lanes, lowering the speed limit on city streets from 30 to 25,  “precinct level” (that is, neighborhood based)  assessments of pedestrian high-risk areas, greater fines for distracted walking (walking against the light while being distracted by an electronic device), restrictions on double parking by delivery vehicles, and — gotta love this idea — a proposal that taxicab meters will be automatically turned off if the taxi exceeds the speed limit.

New York City’s plan highlights an area of teen driver training that, in my view, is often neglected, which is pedestrian safety.  In other words, when we teach teens driving skills and the rules of the road,  how often do we teach them about where they are most likely to find pedestrians putting themselves at risk?  Three of the biggest examples are in the area of double parked vehicles, especially trucks;  where lots of people are on their cell phones or distracted by headphones or earbuds; and anywhere in a congested shopping area.  Parents would do well to take a cue from NYC’s plan and spend a few minutes with their teen drivers about watching out for pedestrians and bystanders — where to expect them, and thus where the most vigilance is needed.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the dangerous new trend of “selfies” – drivers taking a photo of themselves and then sending it, while driving.

I guess I should not have been surprised that, where there is a photo app, there is a video app.  Taking and sending a video of yourself while driving is growing through use of an app called Vine, and making and sending the video is now called Vining.  The National Organizations for Youth Safety sent this link.

The link is frightening not only for the behavior but for the unconcerned-for-safety attitudes of the people in the videos.

I suppose we could conduct an analysis of whether taking and sending a selfie or recording and sending a video while driving is more dangerous.  We could also try to measure whether and explosion involving dynamite and some other explosive inflicts more damage.

The addition of Vining to the list of teen driver distracted driving conduct only underscores the point, made many times on this blog, that our distracted driving laws need to focus not on the particular device being used by a driver, as most of them currently do, but on driver conduct.  In other words, most state distracted driving laws do not expressly address or outlaw recording and sending a video, which technically is not a text message. A video might be illegal if it involved hand holding a cell phone, but many laws do not cover the recording aspect, which is likely to be the principal source of the cognitive and visual distraction.  So, another front in the war on distracted driving, where our laws are behind the curve.

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