Shut Up and Drive:
7 Tips for Avoiding Teen Distracted Driving

Thomas Ray, MA, NBCT Senior Director of Educational Programming

Tip #1
:  Parents, talk with your teen drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.  Be a model of the behavior you want from your teen.

While we don’t promote the intended message of music pop star Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive, the title itself does send an important message: Just Drive!  Most teen drivers do not text and drive, and parents have an influence in a teen’s choice to engage in distracted driving.  Talk with your teen about distractions and model appropriately driving without engaging in distractions, such as putting on makeup or messing with electronic devices.

Tip # 2:  Put your electronic device away before you put the car in gear.  Turn the phone off and place it in the trunk or glove compartment.

That may seem a bit extreme, but as the slogan goes, “It can wait.”  Most of us adults remember a day without cell phones and the need for an immediate response.  Let’s encourage our teens to respond responsibly.  If they do have a passenger in the car, they may want to make them a “designated texter” or “designated caller.”

Tip # 3: Consider installing an app that automatically replies to texts and calls.  Some apps to consider include txtBlocker, CellSafety, Textecution, and iZUP.  And take care of eating and grooming BEFORE getting behind the wheel.

In a recently released (2014) study conducted by UNC’s Highway Safety Research Center, only about 6.7% of observations included any use of an electronic device by an adolescent driver (including holding phone to ear, talking hands free, and texting or suspected texting).  For this study, g-force triggered an in-vehicle camera to collect a short video clip capturing data prior to and following the sudden velocity change.  Almost as frequently, the trigger was related to adjusting vehicle controls (6.2%).  Grooming (3.8%), eating or drinking (2.8%), and reaching for an object in the vehicle (2.5%) were the other most common driver behaviors.  Using an app to block the electronic device while driving can help, but taking care of business before getting behind the wheel will make a big difference, too.

Tip # 4: Limit the number of passengers in the vehicle with a teen driver.  In addition to following North Carolina’s graduated license process, make sure that each passenger understands the need to avoid loud conversations and help the driver keep her or his eyes on the road.

Get this – in the same study, passenger behaviors were big time distractions for teen drivers.  When passengers were present, loud conversations were distractions in 12.6% of the observations!  Horseplay was present in 6.3% of the observations with the driver participating in the horseplay in over half of those (3.7%) [1].

Tip # 5:  Remind drivers and passengers that horseplay needs to take place outside of the car.  Horseplay just doesn’t belong inside a moving vehicle.

So what’s the big deal?  According to a national study analyzing accidents for drivers of ages 15 – 18, “recognition errors” were involved in 46.3% of teen driver involved serious crashes.  These errors include inadequate surveillance (21.3%), internal distraction (13.9%), external distraction (6%), and inattention (2%) along with other errors [2].  We spend a lot of time talking about teen distractions with a focus on texting, but we probably need to spend more time focusing on educating passengers about the importance of their behavior in the vehicle with inexperienced drivers.  Eliminating horseplay can cut down on teen driving distractions.

Tip #6:  Passengers should offer to navigate, adjust controls, and reply to texts or calls for the driver as appropriate.

By simply removing the distractions for the driver, the passenger can help reduce the opportunities for distracted driving.  Turn that potential problem (a distracting passenger) into a solution by designating the passenger the role of watching the GPS and providing the turn-by-turn.  Passengers can also help with adjusting the air conditioner controls and vent direction, adjusting the music selection and volume, and securing items that could potentially be sliding (or flying) around.

Tip #7:  EVERYONE in the vehicle should be in a seatbelt.  Unbelted passengers – even in the back seat – can cause fatal injuries for other passengers in the case of a vehicle crash.

Loose people and loose objects become projectiles and potentially deadly in a vehicle crash.  By keeping everyone and everything secured with seatbelts or cargo straps, damage to human passengers can be minimized.

In terms of policy, we should commend our legislators for the graduated driver’s license that allows inexperienced drivers to take the time to move from a more controlled learning setting to more independence as the driver gains experience on the road.



[1] Foss RD, Goodwin AH. Distracted driver behaviors and distracting conditions among adolescent drivers: Findings from a naturalistic driving study. Journal of Adol Health 2014; 54:S50 – S60.

[2] Curry AE, Hafetz J. Kallan MJ, et al. Prevalence of teen driver errors leading to serious motor vehicle crashes.  Accid Anal Prev 2011; 43:1285 – 1290.