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Just twenty or so years ago, it would have been hard to imagine a future in which you’re constantly connected to the world around you, and just about anything you’d ever want to know is literally at your fingertips. In fact, you might be reading this very article on a smartphone. It’s a great time to be alive, for sure, but that smartphone presents a serious temptation – and a serious risk – to drivers young and old.
It’s an even bigger risk for young drivers, though. Today’s teens grew up in this new, connected reality, and most don’t know what it’s like to go through life without tapping a screen, refreshing their feed, or typing up a status update constantly. Combine that with an overall lack of experience, and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for disaster behind the wheel.
We’re not trying to sound like typical cranky curmudgeons, here. We’re not going to tell you that phones are bad or anything like that. Instead, our aim is to offer advice for how you can talk to your kids about distracted driving, set some ground rules, and even use some new technology to your advantage. Technology can help us – or hurt us. With any luck, you can apply the knowledge gained here to help guide younger drivers that you know and love out of harm’s way.
How Tech Contributes to Distracted Driving
In-car entertainment has been around for far longer than you might think. Radios, of course, have been a mainstay in automobiles for nearly a century. The 1960s brought us four-track and eight-track cartridges, which allowed us to pick our own music for the first time. From there, we went to cassettes, then CDs, and now, with the advent of smartphones, audio streaming.
Audio streaming is a great technology – no more fumbling with tapes or CDs. However, having so much music at your fingertips means you might spend a little more time than you think you are thumbing through streaming apps, trying to find that perfect song or playlist. Combine that with the temptation to read text messages or check social media, and you may find yourself taking your eyes off the road for far longer than you think you have.
Of course, the screens in our pockets aren’t the only ones we have to worry about. Now, most cars come equipped with large touchscreen infotainment systems, fresh off the showroom floor. Many of these systems have downloadable apps that can do anything from booking service appointments to ordering pizza.
This technology makes life easier, but it’s also very dangerous when used inappropriately. Distracted driving claimed 3,142 lives in 2019, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). All it takes is a few seconds of inattention to cause a potentially deadly accident – and, unlike your favorite mobile game, there are no do-overs. The stakes are much, much higher.
How More Tech May Be the Answer
Not all in-car tech hurts us. Recent advances in technology can actually make us safer on the road. In fact, some of this new technology can actually help distracted drivers make it home safely. Some manufacturers, like Mercedes-Benz, have tech that monitors the driver’s alertness to make sure they are paying attention to the road, and observes if they are too fatigued to continue the journey.
Much of this tech is available on far less exotic cars, though. Just about any new car today can be ordered with high-tech safety features such as adaptive headlights, automatic emergency braking, and forward collision warnings. You’ve also got other features like backup cameras, GPS, and hands-free controls that are standard on many cars. Some cars even make use of pioneering autonomous technology.
This new wave of technology can help us even when we aren’t driving. Most mechanics will agree that cars are more complex than ever. However, some of that complexity makes maintenance and repair easier for the DIY home mechanic. Now, when something is wrong, it will tell you with a dashboard light. Before you even pop the hood open to investigate, you can get all of the information you need from the driver’s seat by locating your car’s on board diagnostics (OBD) port.
Once the port has been located, it’s as simple as plugging in a diagnostic tool and reading the error codes stored on your car’s computer. From there, you can easily find the right course of action to repair your car again. Today’s complicated cars may seem daunting for the home mechanic, but since your car can actually tell you exactly what’s wrong, it’s far easier to fix problems than ever before.
When your teen’s car breaks down, working on finding the problem and fixing it together could be a great bonding activity. It will also teach your teen responsibility, problem solving skills, and even instill a sense of pride. The next time your car’s “Check Engine” light comes on, don’t panic, and send it to the dealer immediately. Instead, consider trying to find the solution yourself. Who knows, you might even have a bit of fun while you’re at it.
Setting Up Ground Rules for Teen Drivers
We were all teenagers once, with a fresh driver’s license and a new sense of independence. However, we can all agree that we probably didn’t make the best decisions back when we were that age. After all, we were still kids. In this age of heightened driving distraction, increased temptation from tech, and larger and more powerful cars, it’s important to sit down with your teen driver and set some ground rules. Here are some that we suggest:
These tips are a great starting point for talking to your teen about safe driving. Of course, it’s important to set a good example, so make sure you are following your own rules, too. Remember – we were all teen drivers once. Let’s make sure the next generation gets a chance to pass down those DIY skills you taught them.
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