Reducing Distracted Teen Driving Amid COVID

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In 2017 alone, 2,526 teens were killed on American roadways. Attention span is a key consideration for teen drivers when it comes to risk in general, but even more concerning due to the added stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider these statistics about teens and distractions:

  • The largest percentage of distracted drivers are under the age of 20.
  • In 2018, 63% of deaths among passenger vehicle occupants ages 16-19 were drivers.
  • When teen drivers ride with other passengers, their risk of being in a fatal car crash doubles.
  • According to Carnegie Mellon University, listening to a cell phone reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37%.
  • Talking on a cell phone slows a young driver’s reaction time to that of a 70-year-old.

“We deal with car accidents and their devastating effects day in day out, and a large percentage of those involving younger drivers are due to distracted driving,” says Marc J. Shuman. Mark is the Founder of Shuman Legal, a Chicago-based personal injury law firm that has successfully represented more than 25,000 injured victims.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teens aged 16–19 than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers in this age group are nearly three times as likely as drivers aged 20 or older to be in a fatal crash.”

With the rise of work-from-home jobs, one would think that the roads would be that much safer, but the results tell a different story.

How COVID-19 has increased distracted driving

“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the likelihood that teenage drivers will be involved in a collision due to distracted driving,” says Greg Colburn of Colburn Law, a personal injury law firm in Seattle. “Traffic volumes are lower than usual. For example, during the summer months, highways and interstates were nearly empty at unusual hours of the day, leaving long stretches of road available for high-speed reckless driving – always a temptation for teens.”

Carl Anthony, Managing Editor of Automoblog and AutoVision News in Detroit, Michigan, cites data from organizations from the National Safety Council. “Based on data from NHTSA, we know teens are at the highest risk behind the wheel, and the empty roads during COVID-19 only lead to a false sense of security,” he explains.

“From a safety perspective for driving, teenage drivers are already inexperienced and known to be generally less safe than older drivers,” says Colburn.

That inexperience is only heightened from COVID-related factors, such as the following:

Anxiety

A recent study by Aceable shows that 20% of drivers feel more anxious driving since the onset of COVID. It’s that much more dangerous because heightened anxiety can equal delayed reaction times, a severe handicap when you are behind the wheel.

In Orlando, Darryl Smith has seen the direct effects that COVID has had on teen drivers as the Founding Partner of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team. “There has been a sharp uptick in rates of depression and anxiety among high school and college-aged drivers since the COVID-19 pandemic occurred and the resulting lockdowns, serious illness and fatalities. Increased anxiety has been shown scientifically to reduce reaction times, in addition to increasing the prevalence of distracted driving, drunk driving and driving under the influence.”

“The COVID-19 crisis has had more far-reaching effects than most realize,” adds Shuman.” Unfortunately, teens are not immune from these effects and have the inherent disadvantage of being less experienced when it comes to safe driving.”

Isolation from friends

Some of that anxiety comes from the social deprivation that young people are currently facing, thanks to school, work and government closures.

“The isolation of the pandemic that limits face-to-face contact for teenagers with their friends undoubtedly increases anxiety levels in teenagers already running on hormones,” explains Colburn. “Teenagers live and breathe through their social outlets, and when those support systems are limited or removed, feelings of anxiety, depression, and emotional hardship are to be reasonably expected.”

Digital dependency

COVID-19 lockdowns have also led to a sharp increase in our digital dependency as a society.

Aaron Simmons, Founder of Test Prep Genie, explains. “Being cooped up in our own homes during the pandemic has made us more attached to our mobile devices. This led to an increase in distracted driving incidents, especially ones involving teens and young adults.”

“Ever since the pandemic hit, we are a lot more occupied by our devices,” explains Daniel Carter, Founder of ZippyElectrics. “Using phones while driving has been labeled as the top reason why there is an increase in distracted driving incidents. According to recent research, phone usage while driving has increased up to 17%, which led to a 63% increase in collision incidents.”

Social media trends

Social media has only worsened the issue, providing an added and more immersive distraction to teens already fighting for focus behind the wheel.

“The isolation of the pandemic increases the dependence on social media for an already technology-addicted population,” says Colburn. “The social media addiction increases the likelihood that teenage drivers will feel compelled to check for every text, tweet, and like, even while driving, which increases the risk of a catastrophic collision.”

Apps like TikTok and its seemingly endless supply of fresh trends add to the potential for risky distractions, such as the infamous Cha Cha Slide in the car.

“The addicted culture to trending apps such as TikTok has created a normalisation around being glued to their phones,” says Shuman.

Encouraging safe driving in your teen

Despite the challenges of modern technology, there are ways that parents can help protect their teens from the perils of distracted driving.

Safety features

Today, many vehicles are equipped with extra safety features that will not only help you save on your car insurance but keep the whole family safe, as well.

  • Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control helps drivers follow the speed limit by automatically adjusting your speed and ensuring that you remain a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you.

  • Lane Keeping Assist

A lane-keeping assist feature will take control of your steering and braking as necessary in order to maintain your lane.

  • Blind Spot Detection

Blind spot monitoring uses sensors to detect vehicles in the lanes around you and will alert you with a warning when you signal or become too close.

  • Active Rollover Protection

Roll stability control is designed to prevent your car from overturning when your car makes sudden maneuvers.

  • Emergency Brake Assist

Brake assist, as known as predictive brake assist, will help your vehicle brake more efficiently when there is an emergency on the road.

Even if your car doesn’t have all of the latest gadgets and technologies, you can use Bluetooth to keep your hands free while you’re talking on the phone and driving.

Colburn adds his advice. “Teach your children how to use your vehicle’s Bluetooth phone system or a Bluetooth earpiece to allow safe talking on the phone while driving – if absolutely necessary. Teach your children where to store their phones while driving to avoid temptation.”

Safety tips

There are other ways that parents can help their teens stay focused on the road and avoid the temptations of distracted driving.

  • Music apps

Programs like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music are a few platforms that can sync with apple play or your car’s bluetooth for hands-free ambiance. Plus, student discounts are also offered by platforms like these, to help your teen or young driver save some extra money each month.

  • Be refreshed.

It’s important that drivers avoid hitting the road when hungry or tired. Leaving a few minutes early will also allow you to feel more relaxed and prepared for your journey, so you are better able to take your time.

How parents can help

Parents and caregivers have an enormous responsibility when it comes to educating their teen drivers before handing them the keys.

One way to do this is to get your teen driver involved with the monthly car insurance bill.

“While the solution for this problem lies in the sense of responsibility of a teenager, a parent can still warn them and give them conditions that would help deter them from using their phone while driving,” says Carter. “It might also help to inform teens that insurance companies raise their fees by 25% after a distracted driving incident has been reported. Hopefully, this, among other things, would push teenagers to be more careful when driving.”

“Sharing your responsibility with your teenager not only gives them more reason to be careful since they will be forced to deal with the consequences of their own actions,” explains Simmons, “but also provide them with useful information that they will need in the long-run.”

That means setting a good example when parents are driving their teens.

“As the parent, don’t text while you drive. Don’t tweet while you drive. Don’t check your Facebook account.  Don’t take selfies while you’re driving the kids and post to Instagram,” says Colburn. “Parents that show their children that distracted driving is acceptable will have children that drive distracted.”

Parents should also regularly teach and reinforce the rules of the road.

“Aside from setting a good example, it’s important to support your teen in getting the sufficient experience and practice as best as possible despite the pandemic,” says Shuman. “Seek out a reputable driving school, and limit the number of passengers your teen can have in the car.

Don’t forget about those devices, either, he says. “It’s prudent to enforce firm rules around technological distractions, so insist that devices are either on the back seat or in the glove box when your teen is driving.”

“Unfortunately for parents, there really isn’t much we can do aside from imparting warnings and giving our kids useful information hoping that they take us seriously,” says Simmons of Test Prep Genie. “However, there is also the option to share the responsibility with your teenager.”

Colburn sums up his advice in three tips: “Set a good example. Talk with your teenager. Show your teenager.”

It could make all the difference regarding their safety.

The consequences of distracted driving

Distracted driving can significantly impact your car insurance if there is a loss.

“According to Zendrive, phone usage while driving is up 38% during the pandemic, says Hunter Instine, an attorney specializing in distracted driving at Phoenix, Arizona’s Torgenson Law. “Other bad driving behaviors include speeding, which is up 27%, and hard braking, which is up 25%.”

He cites Torgenseon Law’s interactive map that shows distracted driving laws by state. Currently, 49 states ban texting while driving, and 25 states either limit or ban all handheld cellphone use while driving.

“At minimum, driving distracted and causing a collision will lead to financial payments for property damage repairs and increased insurance premiums,” explains Colburn. “If you don’t follow the law while driving, you’ll see a huge spike in your insurance premiums, or your insurance company may drop you from coverage altogether.”

Traffic laws vary from state to state, but to give you an idea of how steep penalties can run, we highlight different regions of the U.S.

Infraction State Fine
Speeding ticket Maine
  • 1-9 mph – $114
  • 10-14 mph – $129
  • 15-19 mph – $170
  • 20-24 mph – $230
  • 25-29 mph – $278
  • 30+ mph – Maximum of $1,000 in fines, up to 6 months jail time, and 30-180 days license suspension
  • Running stop signs Minnesota Up to $300
    Reckless driving Florida
    • First offense – $25 to $400 in fines and/or 90 days in jail
    • Second offense – $50 to $1,000 in fines and/or up to six months in jail
    Accident that’s not your fault New York Up to $400
    Driving without insurance Delaware $1,500 to $2,000 in fines and license suspension

    Legal ramifications could come into play, as well.

    “A distracted driving collision that results in injury or death will result in the distracted teen driver being arrested and charged with vehicular assault or vehicular homicide,” says Colburn. “All of that teen’s dreams and hard work will be erased over an inconsequential text or tweet.”

    “If that’s not enough, teens need to know that if they hurt someone by driving distracted, their family’s financial future will be endangered,” he warns. “If the teen’s parents don’t have enough automobile insurance to pay for the victim’s damages, the family home can be taken by way of judgment, personal belongings can be stripped away, and the family’s earnings garnished.  In other words, that text or tweet can result in your family – parents, brothers, and sisters – losing their house, losing college funds, losing a way of life.”

    Colburn knows he sounds harsh but lives the realities of distracted driving every day through his clients. “Teenagers need to be told and shown the potential consequences of their actions,” he says.

    Apps to monitor your teen’s driving

    App How it works
    Life 360 This tool allows parents to monitor their children’s phone use, a convenience especially helpful when teens are behind the wheel.
    Driving Mode Google Assistant’s Driving Mode allows you to use your voice to control your phone, making calls, texts and media all accessible hands-free.
    LifeSaver Originally made for commercial use, creators retooled the design for families to track and improve hands-free phone use while driving.
    Bouncie Parents can download this app to receive automatic notifications when their teens are speeding or brake hard.
    Canary Similar to Bouncie, Canary allows parents to track their children’s driving habits with notifications based on custom settings.
    TrueMotion Family Parents receive a notification when their children use their phones while driving and can set up a unique rewards system to promote safe driving.
    Mojo Make safe driving fun with an app that tracks family driving habits and names winners based on safe driving with prizes and rewards.
    MamaBear MamaBear uses GPS tracking to monitor your children based on pre-set parameters.
    DriveMode This app automatically sets your phone to do-not-disturb mode once you reach 15 mph or more.
    EverDrive Make safe driving a community affair with a unique grading system based on safe driving.

    Bottom line

    The pandemic has caused much disruption to daily life, but this could be the perfect time to introduce new and safe driving habits to reduce distracted driving within your own family.

    Smith of Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team reminds parents to remain diligent in their oversight of teen driving. “The only way to reduce the likelihood of teens engaging in such dangerous behavior is to maintain close parental bonds and to always reinforce the dangers and consequences of distracted driving and other unsafe driving habits.”

    “Teens need to understand, too, that even without significant damage, reckless and distracted driving can lead to a lifetime of problematic insurability due to infringements or suspensions,” says Shuman, thinking of his own clients.

    Driving safely isn’t just cheaper – it could potentially be life-saving too, and at a time already fraught with health risks, distracted driving just isn’t worth the risk.

    Written by
    Lena Borrelli
    Insurance Contributor
    Lena Muhtadi Borrelli has several years of experience in writing for insurance domains such as allconnect, Healthline and Reviews.com. She previously worked for Morgan Stanley.