Distracted driving is a problem. Excellent organizations, like EndDD.org, are working hard to raise awareness, including sending people to high school driver’e education classes to tell new teen drivers about the dangers of using their cell phones while driving. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to several high school classes, and I can say it has been a rewarding and eye-opening experience. I came away impressed by the overwhelming recognition that using a cell phone while driving is dangerous — and many of these teenagers see their own parents doing it on a regular basis. But one significant distraction is being ignored: passengers.
Maureen Salamon recently wrote a great article, “Help distracted teens keep focused on the road,” that shines a light on the top distraction for teen drivers. According to a 2016 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, passengers, not cell phones, were the top distraction for teen drivers. Being a chauffeur-parent, it might be difficult to remember, but there was a time when it was exciting to be able to drive your friends around town. I have many great memories of shuttling friends to movies, games, each other’s houses, all the while laughing and discussing the “important” issues of the day. But an honest recollection of those days also involves moments of near misses due to focus on friends as opposed to the roads and traffic. In fact, many states (including Illinois) limit the number of passengers a teenaged driver can have in the car.
I’ve been helping victims of car crashes for over a dozen years now, and I’ve taken the depositions of over one hundred drivers who injured my clients. In every one of those depositions, I ask if there were passengers in the car. It’s not always a sign of careless driving, sure, but as the studies show, it might be. When we take our cars out on the roads, be sure to focus on avoiding all the potential distractions. This isn’t to say don’t drive with passengers. Be cognizant that your friends or family can pull your attention from the task at hand. And please be sure to monitor any young drivers in your household. Make sure they understand when they are driving, driving safely is the focus.