Music, Food and Other Distractions

A social life is extremely important to a teen, as we sure all remember. Using a cell phone, playing with the radio... expect your teen to be sorely tempted to engage in "normal" social activities while driving. But because of this powerful temptation, the rules need to be clear and unbending.

As anyone who has dialed a cell, eaten a Big Mac or played with the radio while driving can tell you, during that second you're looking away, a lot can happen! New drivers tend to underestimate how far a car can travel in a few seconds, and how quickly things can change in that amount of time. At 60 mph, a car moves a whopping 88 feet each second. That's a football field in three and a half seconds.

Given that teens are new drivers, we think it's especially important that they devote all of their attention to the road.

It's tempting for a teen to treat his car as his mobile crib, with all the comforts and conveniences of home. But it's not because a house doesn't move 88 feet per second. We suggest having cell phones powered-off and stored while driving, and adjusting an iPod or music before driving off.

There's no harm done if a teen waits until the trip is over (or until pulling over) to power up the phone and return any messages. And parents can check up on their teens by calling them while they're driving. If the phone rings at all (instead of going directly to voice mail), the phone is not powered off. You can buy "I forgot" once, but after that, consequences are due.

By the way, we think the same rules should apply to adults. Not only because distractions cause accidents in all age groups, but because you should be setting a good example for your kid. And if you do it, your kid will mimic that behavior, rules or not.

One other note: Everybody likes to crank up the tunes, but parents and teens should discuss limits on excessively loud music, which can interfere with the ability to hear horns and emergency vehicles.