8 Tech Tools to Protect Your Teen Driver

Jayson Goetz–a young writer whose work primarily focuses on educating readers about the effects of science and technology on today’s society–is the guest writer for today’s blog.

This is excellent news, because I am… umm…  technologically challenged. I did not know half these things even existed!

Since they are very cool and might save your teen driver’s life, read on:

Protecting Teen Drivers with Technology

student_driverToday’s world is becoming increasingly saturated with technology. Refrigerators come with built-in touch screens, and your iPhone can control the thermostat. What does this mean for parents? Most children in the US have uninterrupted access to some form of technology. This statistic doesn’t sound scary when your teenager is curled up on the couch, but it’s a different story when they’re hurdling through space in two tons of metal and combustibles (a.k.a. driving).

So, where do you stand? Are you a technophobe, or a technophile? On one hand, text messaging makes drivers 23 times more likely to have an accident. On the other hand, technology can prevent accidents, help you monitor your child’s whereabouts, and facilitate hands-free phone calls and text messages.

If your teen is tech savvy and about to start driving, this guide is for you.

Physical Safety Features

First, the good news. As technology progresses, automobile manufacturers compete with one another as they tack on new safety features. That’s how consumers got cruise control, air bags, and seat belts. Today, these are all considered “standard” safety features, and that list is growing. If you’re out of the loop, check out this list of safety features that can protect your teen in the car:

  • Active Park Assist – will parallel park the vehicle without driver assistance
  • Adaptive Cruise Control – adjusts driver-set speed to account for distance from the vehicle ahead
  • Adaptive Headlights – adjusts illumination to accommodate for road conditions
  • Collision Warning System – alerts the driver of impending accidents
  • Drowsiness Alert – uses data to alert drivers when they need a break.
  • Electronic Stability Control – detects and reduces loss of traction during turns
  • Lane-Keep Assist – detects unintended lane changes and keeps the vehicle on course
  • 360-Degree Camera – displays the area around the vehicle to assist with parking

While all of these safety features are exciting, most of us have to budget for a new vehicle. My advice? Prioritize Electronic Stability Control, Lane-Keep Assist, and the Collision Warning System. These particular safety features are the most likely to protect inexperienced drivers from harm.

Hands-Free Features

Now for the bad news. Teen accidents are on the rise. In 2014, teens were involved in 4,272 accidents. In 2015, that number increased to 4,689. 2016 numbers aren’t in yet, but I can imagine that the trend will continue. Given than drivers under the age of 25 are three times more likely to text while driving, what can you do?

If you’re willing to spend the money, you can always purchase a vehicle with hands-free Bluetooth technology. Here of some of the feature to look for:

  • Text to Speech – translates text messages, status updated, and other notifications into speech
  • Speech to Text – allows user to dictate text messages, emails, and more
  • Vocalized GPS – vocalizes GPS directions through the speaker
  • Audio Streaming – streams audio from your device through the speaker
  • Voice Commands – allows user to activate various functions with their voice
  • Vocalized Caller ID – vocalizes incoming caller ID information
  • Voice Dialing – allows the user to dial with their voice

Now, these features are available in many new vehicles. I drive a used Honda Accord that comes with 6/7 of these features. You can also purchase a Bluetooth kit that comes with the features you really need.

Further Considerations

You’ve purchased a safe vehicle, and you’ve discouraged distracted driving? What’s left? My only other suggestions are low tech. If you run into trouble, try implementing a driving contract that includes rules and consequences for various driving scenarios. This will help your teen learn the rules and avoid negative consequences.

My last suggestion may seem obvious, but it’s critical: make sure you model good behavior. If your teen sees you texting while in the driver’s seat, they’ll be sure to model your behavior. That’s it! The rest is out of your hands.

How to Stay Safe in a Motor Vehicle

Motorized vehicle accidents are, most years, the first or second leading cause of accidental death in kids: children are improperly restrained in cars or are passengers with an impaired driver, are inexperienced teenage drivers, or are operating ATVs, dirt bikes, and Sea Doo’s…. I have nightmares.

Children are frequently in accidents when someone else is in the driver’s seat. The number one thing you can do to prevent injury to your child in an accident is to get an approved car seat of the appropriate size for your munchkin, and always latch him or her in—no matter how far you are going. No exceptions, ever. I once watched a baby die after being flung from his mother’s arms in a car going only five miles per hour in the parking lot of our children’s hospital. If the car is moving, the child needs to be locked in.  Make sure the seat fits your child, and change the seat as he or she grows. Read the manual for the car seat and for your car. If you are unsure that everything fits and is hooked up correctly, call your local fire station. Most are happy to check your child’s seat for free.

Drive rationally yourself. Leave a decent following distance.  Follow the 3 second rule (it should take you 3 seconds to reach the car in front of you if it stopped instantly), no matter what the speed. Stay off your cell phone, because studies prove distracted driving from cell phone use is as bad or worse than drunk driving. Make wearing a seatbelt such an ingrained habit that it never occurs to them not to do it, and never drive if you have been drinking.

Talk to them about getting out of a car if they don’t feel safe with the driver. Agree to pick them up anywhere, anytime if they call you. I have one patient who is alive now because he said, “No, I’ll just walk.” The boy who took his place is dead.

There is nothing to match the terror of knowing your fragile child has a driver’s licence. Most states have implemented longer required periods of time driving with learner’s permits, which has decreased injuries significantly. Graduated licenses have also helped: the more time kids drive with supervision before they are on their own, the better. Automatic seat belts and airbags are beautiful things. Also, the longer they have to drive themselves before they can drive friends, the better. When the time comes, friends bring with them a multitude of distractions: conversation, music, tech, flirting, and peer pressure.  Texting and distracted driving are the problems of the day, waiting for a solution. Talk to your children about the dangers; make sure they understand that texting and driving is never allowed, and that they must keep their attention on the road. Be a good example by doing this yourself.

If your child wants their own car, make sure they contribute to its cost in both dollars and sweat. If a child puts their hard earned money and muscle into a car he or she will take better care of it, and consequently of the person inside.

Last, the other motorized vehicles: Sea-Doo’s, ATVs and dirt bikes. They are the perfect storm: they go fast, have no outside framework, roll over easily, and the only thing that keeps them from crashing are your children’s foresight, common sense, and trained reflexes. The United States averaged 23,800 dirt bike crashes requiring emergency room visits every year between 2001 and 2004; these numbers go up as dirt bikes become more popular. Don’t. Really, just don’t. You do like the kid, right?

Car Seats

When I was a kid, I used to ride stretched out in the back window of the car with my carsick bucket. Hmm, so wrong. We’ve learned a few things since then.

Even today, an average of 900 children die in car accidents every year, more than 2 little ones each and every day.  One in three children who die in motor vehicle accidents are not buckled up. There is a real racial difference: one in four of the white kids who died were not buckled; this increased to almost half in the black and hispanic children who died in accidents. There is also a socioeconomic difference: not everyone can afford a car seat. Last, there is a geographic difference: far fewer children die in car accidents in states where car seat usage is mandated by law.

Buckle your child into an approved car seat any time your car is in motion, no exceptions. Bad things happen suddenly; prevention is much easier than regret.

Which car seat you buy depends on your child’s size, his or her age, and the type of car you drive. Read your car manual and the car seat’s manual because instructions and weight limits vary quite a bit between brands. Some general guidelines:

  • Infants and toddlers under two face backward as long as they fit. You can smush them a little. Check your seat instructions: there will be a maximum height or weight listed.
  • Toddlers and young children go in forward-facing car seats as long as they fit. They no longer fit if their head is above the back of the car seat with nothing to support it. Check that maximum height or weight listed on your car seat instructions again.
  • When they no longer fit into the car seat, they go in booster seats until the seat belt fits.
  • Seat belts fit when the upper belt lies over the shoulder and chest (not the neck) and the lower belt lies across the hips. Generally, that’s when the child is between eight and twelve and about four-foot-nine.
  • Children under 13 need to ride in the back seat.
  • If you have questions or just want someone to double-check your installation, local fire or police departments are usually more than happy to help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a comprehensive review of car seats, kept up to date every year, at HealthChildren.org. Read through it for more precise information on seats specific to your child’s age.