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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Motivation for summer caution

It’s a somber reality, but the days between Memorial Day and Labor Day represent a period fraught with risk for teens.  Over the last five years, nearly 4,000 teens have lost their lives in car accidents during those summer stretches.

That’s why a consortium including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), insurance entities, law enforcement agencies and other safety advocates have for years declared the months of June, July and August as “the 100 deadliest days” for teen drivers.  Their accompanying awareness campaign is designed to forewarn parents and teenagers of the heightened risk and coerce them to avoid various dangerous behaviors.

Those life-ending and life-altering tragedies represent calls to parents to break the catastrophic news that their child is gone followed by funerals for teens that needlessly died.

With graduation parties, holidays and summer jobs, teens spend more time on the road from June to September than any other time of year.  And a greater activity surge is expected this year with the easing of COVID restrictions. 

Increased exposure naturally increases danger for inexperienced drivers, but adding other ill-advised activities — drinking, speeding, distraction — raises the mayhem quotient even more.

It helps for parents to set rules and enforce them.  Though you may sound like a “broken record”, sensible messages bear repeating.  Teen driving rules must include:  no alcohol; mandatory seat belt use at all seating positions (low seat belt use is a primary reason that teen driver and passenger fatality rates remain high); limited nighttime driving; restriction of number of teen passengers; and ban of electronic devices including cell phones while driving.

While all of those bad habits can result in bad outcomes while driving, that last one (cell phone use), gains more prominence as an accident catalyst with each passing day.

Talking on cell phones while driving is bad enough, but now the even-more-distracting practice of texting is rampant.  Unfortunately, while virtually every teen polled knows it’s dangerous, 50 percent admit to texting from the road anyway, and 75 percent say that their friends text and drive, according to a survey of teenagers ages 15 to 19, which was commissioned by AT&T.  Peer pressure is a key contributor to this hazardous behavior, according to Andrea Brands, director of consumer safety and education for AT&T, as teens expect a response to their texts within five minutes.

There are phone settings and apps from wireless providers and other independent developers that automatically send all incoming calls to voicemail and hold text messages. Some of them deliver an automatic response to the sender that the user they are trying to contact is currently driving.

Another way parents can help curb texting behind the wheel is by setting an example.  Parents are telling kids not to text and drive, but then they’re often texting while driving themselves. Parents remain the best line of defense to keep everyone safe behind the wheel,” said Morgan Dean, AAA representative, “It’s never too soon to educate teens on the dangers of distracted driving, speeding, and the impairing effects of alcohol and marijuana. But we can’t just tell teens about the dangers. We must also refrain from engaging in risky driving behaviors and ensure we are modeling good behavior.”

In fact, 77 percent of the teens whom AT&T surveyed say that the same adults telling them not to text and drive do it “all the time,” according to the survey.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at precisiondriving@spokesman.com.