(Finally) getting through to teens about distracted driving

There’s no shortage of facts, like: motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, 61% of drivers admit to texting behind the wheel, and distracted driving is an implication in nearly 1 out of 5 crashes.  

We can cite those types of stats from dozens of studies or surveys. But, what’s really catching (and holding) the attention of teens and parents when it comes to safety and ending distracted driving?

I can think of a few standout examples and what they have in common – storytelling, education, and real-life connections.

AT&T’s #ItCanWait campaign grabbed people’s attention with a powerful video where teens started off with laughter-filled confessions of using their phones while driving. They quickly changed their outlook when they met a woman who lost her parents and was left partially paralyzed because of a distracted driver.

One California high school senior started the No Text & Drive Club, which invites experts and guests to speak about their firsthand experiences with the consequences of distracted driving. That “voice of experience” is one that stays with teens and encourages the lessons to be shared.

To this day, I can still remember the unsettling details of one high school assembly that illustrated the dangers of drunk and distracted driving. After a quick search, I found that Peninsula School District’s mock crash assembly is held annually. 

We saw totaled cars, emergency vehicles, and “wounded” classmates staged over the length of our football field. Later that day, mock funerals and announcements drove the message home as we were silent and contemplative in our halls and classrooms. Leadership teacher Kelly Indahl said, it leaves students “as close to feeling an impact without actually experiencing it.” 

For me, it was a somber reality check most of us were unprepared for and had more influence than any drivers ed class I can remember.

by  Sharlyn Petit

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