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Teen Driving Safety and Prom Night: What Parents Need to Know
Follow these great tips to help make sure you both see eye to eye on what driving responsibly means and how dire the consequences can be.

Courtest of ShopAutoWeek.com
With some parenting prep, teens can have fun on their prom night without parents having to stress about their safety.

Findings from the NHTSA survey show that drivers 18 to 20 years old report the highest level of phone involvement in crash or near-crash incidents.”
Distracted driving is at an all-time high and we are seeing more and more accidents from cell phone use among all age groups. For teen drivers though, inexperience and accessibility to smartphones has made for a lethal combination. The Governors Highway Safety Association reported in February that the number of 16- and 17-year-old driver deaths increased 11 percent for the first six months of 2011. If the trend continued for the second half of 2011, it would have ended eight straight years of cumulative declines in teen-driving deaths. Final numbers are still being tallied.

Despite messages from celebrities and public-service announcements, teens still don’t seem to be getting it. Two nationwide studies this month show that teen drivers classify distracted driving differently than older drivers.?Tire-maker Bridgestone Americas Inc. recently surveyed more than 2,000 drivers ages 15 to 21, and found that while many teenagers and young adults claim they understand the dangers of texting and driving or drinking and driving, they don’t see everything that takes one hand off the wheel as a distraction.

In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration polled more than 6,000 drivers to assess the public's attitudes, knowledge and self-reported behavior related to cell phones. When asked, as passengers, how they would feel about different situations, about 90 percent reported that they considered a driver who was sending or reading text messages or e-mails as very unsafe. However, younger passengers were less likely than older passengers to speak up. Only about one-third of younger passengers 18 to 24 years old would say something to a driver who was talking on a handheld phone, while about half of drivers 65 or older would speak up.

"Distracted driving is an epidemic on America’s roadways, and our youngest drivers are among the most at risk," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement.

Texting Drops With Age

Findings from the NHTSA survey show that drivers 18 to 20 years old report the highest level of phone involvement in crash or near-crash incidents. These young drivers are nearly three times as likely to report having been reading or sending a text or e-mail when such an incident occurred compared with drivers aged 25 and older. In addition, drivers younger than 25 are two to three times more likely to drive while sending or reading a text message or e-mail.?Bridgestone found that of those younger drivers surveyed, one-third admit to reading text messages while driving, and one-quarter do not believe talking on the phone while driving is dangerous.

"The message is getting through to some extent, but there is still much work to be done," said Angela Patterson, manager of Bridgestone’s Teens Drive Smart Program.

With prom season and graduation right around the corner, the American Automobile Association (AAA), Nationwide Insurance and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have the following tips for parents to help teens get home safely during prom season.

* If teens are driving, make sure they aren't distracted—tell them no texting, talking on the cell phone while driving or talking with passengers in the back seat, AAA recommends.

* Nationwide recommends not allowing too many prom-goers into one vehicle, since more passengers mean more distractions.

* Set a reasonable curfew for the evening and let your teen know you will wait up for him or her to return home, AAA says.

* MADD encourages parents to talk often with their kids about alcohol, but especially before events such as prom, spring break and graduation when they may be faced with decisions about whether or not to drink.

* AAA tells parents to talk with teens about a safe ride home, prom rules and the consequences for breaking the rules before they attend any prom festivities.

* Eliminate the necessity for driving at all. Consider a limo or an adult driver to chauffeur students, says Nationwide—someone who has more experience driving at night and someone who is not hopped up on prom-night adrenaline.

Contests Hope to Engage Teens

If the facts don’t convince your teen about the seriousness of driving, safe-driving campaigns with contests for prizes like college scholarships might.

Bridgestone’s teen-safety education initiatives include a "Teens Drive Smart" video contest, which is accepting video entries until June 22. Students, age 16 to 21, create a short automotive-safety-themed video that encourages their peers to make better decisions behind the wheel. The top 10 videos will be posted online for the public to vote on, and the three videos that receive the most votes will win college scholarships: First place receives $25,000, second place receives $15,000, and third place receives $10,000.?In addition to the scholarship, the first-place winner will have his or her video air on the MTV JumboTron in Times Square in New York during August. Each Teens Drive Smart winner will also have the chance to have his or her video used as a public-service announcement on television stations across the United States. Visit www.teensdrivesmart.com for more information.

Also, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is hosting a "Distracted Driving Design Challenge" that invites teens to create an original icon with an anti-distracted-driving message that can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other social-networking sites. The contest, which is accepting submissions through July 31, is open to students 13 to 18 years old in the U.S. LaHood and a panel of DOT experts will select the winning design and incorporate it into the department’s distracted-driving campaign. Full contest and submission details for the Distracted Driving Design Challenge are available at Distraction.gov and Challenge.gov.

If your teens still need something to grab their attention about the responsibility of driving, have them watch this video, which is a part of the Department of Transportation video series "Faces of Distracted Driving."

Angie Fisher is an associate editor at shopautoweek.com. Angie loves anything Audi—of course, if she had to pick it would be the R8. Realistically, though, right now she is looking at a Jeep Wrangler. She graduated from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is the recipient of a Michigan Press Association award. Angie is married and loves spending time with her dog. Follow her on Twitter @Ang_Fisher.

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