As prom season returns, many are thinking about more than just snapping pictures and properly pinning boutonnieres to lapels. As teens prepare for the big night, many parents worry about, not only the possibility of drinking and driving, but their kids getting distracted behind the wheel or riding with someone who is not paying close attention to the road.
“There’s an argument to be made that distracted driving is actually a worse problem in America than drunk driving,” says Laura Adams, a safety and education analyst with driversed.com, an online driving school. In a 2018 survey conducted by driversed.com, 73 percent of drivers admitted to reading text messages behind the wheel, while 54 percent said that they had typed out text messages while driving. “The goal was to find out what the bad driving behaviors were,” Adams explains. Unfortunately, the poll yielded far more shocking results than just texting and driving.
Eight percent of drivers admitted to watching YouTube videos while driving, and four percent say they’ve caught up on their favorite TV shows while watching Netflix behind the wheel. “These drivers may as well be playing behind-the-wheel Russian roulette,” Adams says.
In Maple Grove, the police department is aware of how dangerous it can be to get behind the wheel for anyone but particularly for young, inexperienced drivers. “[You] have to be willing to have those tough conversations with kids,” says captain Adam Lindquist. “Often times, there’s a lack of communication.” Lindquist encourages parents to set the example for their young drivers when they get behind the wheel themselves. “Our actions speak louder than words,” he says.
The Maple Grove Police Department’s involvement with high schoolers on prom night doesn’t stop with simple verbal reminders. For the past three years, Lindquist, as well as other officers from the precinct, have teamed up with Osseo Senior High. There, a “pre-prom” carnival is held, where students learn firsthand about the dangers of driving under the influence.
“We’ve gotten pedal cars and vision impaired goggles and set up an obstacle course for students to participate in,” Lindquist says. There, high schoolers are able to get a grasp on what it feels like and looks like to attempt to operate a vehicle while inebriated. Students are also quizzed on their knowledge about DUIs and distracted driving, with the police department rewarding them for their efforts.
Teens should not only avoid distractions behind the wheel, but also be aware of who it is they’re getting a ride from on the big night or at any time. For some who have never seen someone inebriated, that can be a difficult task. “[They’re] not physically stable or able to carry on a normal conversation,” Lindquist says. “Close friends would be able to tell even with the early onset of impairment.”
Adams also warns of the dangers of too many teens riding in the same car. “The number of passengers in a vehicle is directly correlated to more distraction,” she says. Despite Minnesota law stating that teen drivers can only have one passenger under 20 in the car with them (and no more than three after the first six months of licensure), it can be an easy factor to forget when everyone’s piling into the car on prom night or other occasions.
Minnesota’s “No Texting while Driving” Law:
It is illegal for drivers to read/compose/send text messages and emails or access the Internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic—including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. — The Office of Traffic Safety, a Division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety