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Your teens are texting while driving far more often than you think

According to a recent traffic safety survey by the University of Michigan, teen drivers are 26 times more likely to text while driving than their parents think they are. The survey, which was funded by Toyota Motor Corp., involved 5,500 people across the nation -- teen drivers 16 to 18 and their parents.

The asked teens how many times they read or sent at least text message during each trip. The teens surveyed said they do so 26 times more often than the parents surveyed estimated they did. 54 percent of the teens also said they talked on a hand-held cellphone while driving. And, 69 percent of the teens said they regularly drove with only teenage passengers in the car -- a known risk for distracted driving.

Car wrecks are the leading cause of fatal accidents among American teens. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that seven teen drivers aged 16 to 19 die every day in car accidents.

How can we have an impact on distracted driving by teens? A variety of strategies have been tried, including peer pressure, parental intervention, and passing laws against using cell phones while driving, which has been done here in Alabama and in many other states.

Parents may be key to the problem. As the study indicated, parents apparently underestimate how much their kids talk and text behind the wheel. With the dangers of distracted widely known, parents may need to sit down with their teens and reiterate how important it is to avoid distractions.

Don't assume that your kids have stopped texting behind the wheel because you've had that talk. Keep talking, and keep reminding them to drive safely. It could save your child's life.

Source: Bloomberg, "Teens Text More While Driving Than Parents Think: Study," Alan Ohnsman, Nov. 27, 2012

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