Subscribe to teendriving's new newsletter and receive driving tips and news.
Interview with Connect with Kids Continued
Interview with Connect with Kids
Stacey DeWitt, Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Q. Connect with Kids’ primary focus is to research and produce videos and news stories about the issues facing teens. You talk to actual kids, right?
A. Yes, we interview real teenagers and feature their true stories in our programs. We also talk to experts for advice and tips that can really help teens and their parents.
Q. What does the research show about teen driving?
A. Teenagers, driving and safety have always been a challenging combination. Listen, I’ve been driving 20 years and I still remember how exciting it was to get my driver’s license! But the statistics about teenagers and driving tell an especially scary story. A recent University of California/Irvine study says that girls are becoming more aggressive drivers and getting into more automobile crashes and fatal wrecks than they did 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the accident rates for boys have remained about the same. So we have to remember this isn’t just about our sons – we have to make sure our daughters understand the rules of the road, too.
Q. What is the one “driving danger” for teens that you hear most about today?
A. Distracted driving. Hands down, that’s the leading cause of accidents. Teenagers just aren’t experienced enough to do other things while they’re driving. The Allstate Foundation found that 13 percent of teens admit to text messaging while driving – and that translates into a 400 percent increase in the amount of time teen drivers take their eyes off the road. Talking on cell phones, text messaging, talking to other passengers, eating or drinking, traffic -- all of these add to the dangerous mix for young drivers.
Plus, while many people think that late-night driving poses the greatest dangers, experts say that there are as many accidents for 16- and 17-year-olds on weekday afternoons between 3 and 5 p.m. as there are on Friday and Saturday nights.
Q. So what should teens do to be safer?
A. If I say it, will it just happen? “Practice safe driving EVERY time you are behind the wheel!” LOL – as the kids say. I wish it were that easy. But it can be hard because when we talk to teens, they tell us they can’t help but think, “that could never happen to me.” They don’t think a horrible car accident or killing someone else will happen to them. But it can happen, and it does happen, in greater percentages to teen drivers than any other age group on the road.
And by they way, parents have to step up, too. We have to be good role models behind the wheel. We can’t be eating, talking on the cell, fumbling around in the back seat. Our kids are watching us.
Q. How can parents and teens work together to help promote safe teen driving?
A. At Connect with Kids, our goal is to help teens and parents talk together – and they’re not always easy conversations. There can be a lot of uncomfortable topics, eye-rolling, misunderstandings, disagreements. But talking about driving rules and consequences has to be an on-going conversation in families. While many parents think that kids only listen to their friends, the research and the kids themselves tell us that their parents are still the most influential people in their lives. Our kids hear what we tell them; they don’t always do it of course – but it makes a difference. So keep talking!
Q. What are some of the things they should talk about?
A. Parents and their teens need to come to a solid understanding about expectations, family rules and state laws. It’s not just about teaching our kids how to drive on the road and parallel park. Watching a Connect with Kids DVD, like Shattered and Behind the Wheel, really helps start a conversation without a lot of finger pointing. The DVDs cover some tough issues, including drinking and driving, distractions and risky behaviors, and they come with discussion questions to get the ball rolling.
Studies also show that driving contracts are helpful so everyone is clear what the rules are and what the consequences are. There are sample contracts all over the Internet – including a great option right here on teendriving.com. Print one out, read it together, sign it – and enforce it! Then your teen knows exactly what’s expected.
Q. What safe driving programs are out there that you think parents and teens just don’t know about?
A. Many states have adopted a graduated license program – checkpoints for young drivers so they can “graduate” and move up to a higher driving rank and have more driving privileges. The phases generally include an instructional permit, a provisional license (driving with certain restrictions) and, finally, an unrestricted license. Each phase comes with rules and regulations that vary from state to state. Restrictions include things like only driving with a parent, driving only during the day, driving with a limited number of passengers, a curfew, etc.
Graduated license programs have been effective in reducing teen accidents. But when we talk with teens at Connect with Kids, many say they’re either not familiar with the program or they don’t understand how the laws are enforced. Teens also tell us that while they are aware of the rules for new drivers, they don’t know the consequences for breaking the rules – so it’s hard for them to buy into their importance. Each of us – parents and teens – must learn the local laws and understand the consequences of not following the rules.
Q. What are some of the most dangerous trends you’ve covered at Connect with Kids?
A. In one recent news story we covered a deadly trend among teens – allowing friends to ride in the trunk of the car to get around the “six month rule” of not being able to drive friends for the first six months of having a driver’s license. Several kids we talked to who had participated in “Trunking” had been in accidents; young people around the country have died in crashes. It’s those kinds of trends that parents and teens need to be aware of and at least talk about, so kids are ready if their friends suggest some crazy idea!
Q. What other factors influence risky teen driving?
A. Research shows that driving while you’re exhausted can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. Teens and their parents may not realize that, according to the Adelaide Centre for Sleep Research, a person who has been awake for 17 hours straight is twice as likely to have an accident as an alert driver. With the pressures of school and other activities that many teens have, they need to know that fatigue impairs judgment, especially for new drivers. So… take a nap before a big night out! Don’t try to drive 10 hours in one straight shot just to see a concert! Break it up into shorter drives. If you are falling asleep at the wheel, get off the road! It sounds simple, but we have to let our kids know how really important this is.
Q. What makes teenagers such a targeted group for car accidents?
A. Parts of the brain -- like the frontal lobe that’s responsible for planning, memory, decision-making and controlling impulses – develop later than other parts of the brain. So really, a teenager’s brain is not fully developed in all these skills that adults kind of take for granted. The Teenage Brain a Connect with Kids program, helps adults understand the attitudes and risky behaviors teens often have, especially new teen drivers. When it comes to driving (and lots of other expectations, as well) teens and parents need to work together to set boundaries, limits and rules – and make sure everyone understands them the same way.
Q. If an accident happens, a lot of teens are afraid of their parents’ reaction. What should kids do if they have an accident? What advice do you have for parents?
A. First of all, this is something that parents and teens should review as part of driver training. We all hope that an accident will never occur, but in the “be prepared” mode, knowing what to do and having reviewed the procedures can help everyone remain calm.
Experts give this advice when an accident happens:
- First find all the victims and make sure everyone is unhurt. If someone is hurt, call 911 immediately.
- Next, call the police. They will ask for specific information.
- Then, move your vehicle to the side of the road and get out of the car and onto safe ground if possible. If the car cannot be moved, remain in the car with seatbelts on and put the hazard blinking lights on as well. .
- Next, exchange information including: name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver license number and license plate number between you, the driver, and the owner of each vehicle.
- Make sure you call your parents. They can talk you through the situation and be there to support you. Parents: Stay calm and act quickly. Save the interrogation and lectures for later.
- Once you have time, call your insurance agent and discuss whether or not to file a claim.
Q. That’s great to have a process to follow. Any other tips?
A. Carry a disposable camera in your car so you can take a picture of the vehicles if you are in an accident. Also, don’t admit fault or discuss the accident with other involved parties. Don’t leave the scene of the accident until all information has been exchanged. If the police have been called, wait for them. Do not accept help from strangers on the road unless you are in need as they could intend harm (i.e. robbery, carjacking).
It’s easy to say but hard to do: it is so important to stay calm and use your best judgment in situations like this. Don't become hysterical; try to be level-headed and responsible. Chances are a lot of people you know have been in accidents, too. Your parents may be disappointed or even angry, but they will be grateful that you are not hurt and will appreciate you handling the situation as calmly and maturely as you can.