Focus First and Foremost

Updated: 
September 24, 2016 - 1:00am

Focus First and Foremost

Today’s teens face more distractions than any generation before.

Many don’t recall a time when they were not continuously connected to their friends. Smartphones, which might have been provided as a safety precaution in case Mom or Dad was running late picking them up from school, are now the source of constant messaging, sharing and media consumption.

Teens send texts instead of passing notes in class. They share moments with their peers and the world in the form of photos and short videos. Music, food and transportation can arrive on demand, all with the swipe of a finger. Being away from their phones, even for a short period of time, can cause a form of separation anxiety expressed in the acronym FOMO, which stands for “fear of missing out.”

So it should come as no surprise that cellphone use is the offense most commonly associated with distracted driving. However, it’s not the only type of distraction.

“A lot of people think they’re better drivers than they actually are, which is why they take unnecessary risks when they’re behind the wheel,” said Randy Petro, chief claims officer for Mercury Insurance. “We see a lot of claims related to distracted driving, including parents turning to scold arguing children, adjusting the infotainment system and even taking photos while driving. Your first priority once you start piloting any vehicle should be to focus on the task at hand — driving.”

Ten percent of all drivers ages 15 to 19 who were involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA also reports that 660,000 people drive distracted every day.

Teens aren’t the only ones who feel the need to be connected; adults are guilty of it, too.

Many of the teens who are glued to their smartphones have witnessed their parents answering emails at the dinner table or have seen them shoot a “quick text” while driving. Teens have grown up learning that this type of behavior is acceptable and maybe even expected. However, there’s a right time and a right place for everything.

“The first thing parents need to do is practice what they preach. Teenagers won’t always be receptive to ‘because I say so’ or ‘because I’m the adult,’ especially if they witness their parents actively engaging in a behavior they’re being told is bad,” Petro said. “We, as adults, need to set a proper example. After all, we do have the advantage of more life experience.”

Parents should set a powerful example by committing not to drive distracted, if they want their children to do the same. If necessary, parents also can invest in technology to monitor and disable phones while their teens are driving to eliminate the temptation altogether.

“No Instagram post, bite of a burger or playlist selection is worth someone else’s life. People are mainly in a car to get from point A to point B, and our wish is for them to do it safely,” Petro said.

There are several excellent online resources that provide tips and information to help prepare teens for life behind the wheel, including Mercury Insurance’s Drive Safe Challenge and NHTSA’s Distraction.gov.