8 Potentially Deadly Driving Distractions Your Teen Needs to Avoid

Even the smallest distraction can be a recipe for disaster

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: 8 Driving Distractions Your Teen Needs to Avoid

I’m not sure anything can make a parent feel more helpless and fearful than watching their teen pull out of the driveway and drive off alone. 

As a mom who’s taught three kids how to drive and who still worries fiercely every single time they grab the keys to the car, it’s one of those major milestones in our kids’ lives that leave us feeling both proud and scared to death. 

Regardless of how many hours of driver’s education our kids have, whether they took a defensive driving class, how many practice hours of driving they have under their belt or even how responsible they are, we still worry. And, with good reason.

According to statistics:

  • 16-year-olds have higher crash rates than drivers of any other age.
  • 1 in 5 16-year-olds will have a car accident in their first year of driving.
  • 16 and 17-year-old driver death rates increase with each additional passenger.
  • More than a third of deaths of 13 to 19-year-olds per year occur in motor vehicle crashes.
  • Boys have a higher crash rate than girls.

As parents, we do our best to prepare our kids with endless hours behind the wheel, professional driving instruction, and plenty of long lectures to keep them safe on the road. And, most teens start out doing their absolute best to follow the rules of the road.

But, for a lot of teens, once they start to get the hang of driving, they become confident. And, although being a confident driver is always a good thing, becoming overly confident isn’t. Once they become confident, that confidence can turn to complacency and that’s when their driving becomes secondary to everything else going on around them. 

They crank up the music, they pick up a burger at a drive-thru and eat it while driving, they glance at their phone to see if their friend texted them back – all distractions that are a recipe for a disaster. 

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 58 percent of all teen crashes showed distractions as a major factor, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. What they also found is that even the smallest distraction can lead to a crash.

Education is key to keeping your teen safe on the road. Help your teen avoid an unnecessary car accident by passing along these 8 potentially deadly driving distractions your teen needs to avoid at all costs. 

8 Deadly Driving Distractions Your Teen Needs to Avoid


According to research, here are the 8 most common forms of distracted driving leading to a teen driver crash. 

#1 Interacting with Other Passengers

There’s nothing more fun to a teenager than cruising around on a Friday night with their friends – windows rolled down, the music cranked up and everyone laughing and goofing around. As much as we don’t want to take away the freedom our kids feel when they’re driving with their friends, we’re doing them a disservice if we don’t educate them about what can happen if they lose their focus while driving. 

As the designated driver, our kids are responsible for the lives of those in their car. Regardless of what’s happening around them, their number one job is to remain focused, keep their eyes on the road, and do their best to protect themselves and their passengers. It only takes a split second for disaster to strike. 

#2 Using a Cellphone

According to the New York Times, the 2-second rule for distracted driving can mean the difference between life and death. “Drivers should never take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds at a time. In fact, the odds of a crash double if your eyes are off the road for more than two seconds.”

The vast majority of states now ban texting and driving unless the phone is connected through the vehicle’s built-in screen or can be operated with voice commands, but even that may not be enough. A study by Carnegie Mellon University showed that simply listening to a cellphone (even if it isn’t being held by the person) reduces brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent. 

Of course, it doesn’t seem logical to advise teens to never use their cellphone when driving (there might be times they have to make a hands-free call), it’s important for them to recognize that cellphone use of any kind (illegal and legal) can be a major distraction that can lead to an accident.

#3 Looking or Reaching for Something in the Car

Whether they dropped their cellphone between the seats or they can’t seem to find their wallet – looking down, reaching between the seats, on the floor or the dashboard takes their eyes and hand(s) off the wheel. Tell your teen, IT CAN WAIT. If it’s urgent, encourage your teen to pull over in a parking lot rather than looking or reaching for something while driving – it’s never worth the risk. 

#4 Looking for Something Outside the Vehicle

Looking for a road sign, trying to find a friend’s house or searching for a store or restaurant  – it’s all too easy for our kids to shift their focus away from driving. But it’s when they let their guard down (even for a few seconds) that accidents happen. Encourage your teen to exercise extra caution when looking for anything while driving – accidents have a way of happening when you least expect it. 

#5 Singing & Loud Music

We did it when we were kids and there’s no question our kids will do it, too. And, even though we want our kids to have fun experiences with their friends, we also have to educate them about the danger of getting too comfortable behind the wheel.

If your teen is the designated driver, advise them to stay alert and avoid cranking up the music too loud which is a serious distraction. (Plus, it’s nearly impossible to hear an ambulance or police siren when the music is blaring). Also, if they’re a passenger in a car, make SURE they know it’s OKAY to speak up if they notice the driver isn’t focused on driving. 

#6 Putting on Makeup, Brushing Hair, Etc.

Your daughter is running late for school so she rushes to put on a little mascara before she gets to school. Your son is on his way to pick up a date and he decides to glance in the rearview mirror for a few seconds to brush his hair. It may not sound like that big of a deal, but even small distractions can lead to a rear-end collision or worse. 

#7 Eating & Drinking

It’s so tempting… run through a Starbucks drive-thru and grab a coffee and muffin or pick up Chick-fil-A or McDonald’s and eat it in the car on the way home.

Every driver does it. But when you’re a new driver and you’re trying to navigate driving, following the rules of the road, traffic and unpredictable drivers all while eating or drinking (which means they only have one hand on the wheel), it can be a lot to keep up with. Encourage your teen to eat before they leave the house or wait until they’re home (or at their destination) to dive into their food. A burger and fries aren’t worth having an accident. 

#8 Daydreaming

I’m sure every new and seasoned driver can attest to doing this on occasion… daydreaming while driving. Your teen has a lot on their mind – perhaps a big test tomorrow, a try-out next week or maybe they’re just exhausted from a long day. Rather than paying attention to their driving, they’re far more focused on how tired or hungry they are or the pile of homework they have on their plate. But daydreaming is a deadly habit. Talk to your teen about being vigilant when they’re driving –  nothing is more important than reaching their destination safely. 

Everything from singing to music and brushing their hair to glancing out the window and looking for a dropped item in the car are all potentially deadly driving distractions your teen needs to avoid.  To avoid a crash, remind your teen to keep their guard up, avoid distractions as much as possible, and always remain focused and alert when driving.

If you enjoyed reading, “8 Deadly Driving Distractions Your Teen Needs to Avoid,” you might also like these other posts:

8 Common Mistakes Teen Drivers Make and How to Correct Them

Essential Things Every Teen Driver Should Have in Their Car

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