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Don't drive distracted

It turns out friends are the biggest distraction for teenage drivers. Photo iStock.com

‘Don’t Drive Distracted’ campaign aimed at teens

AAA and Safe Drive Club urge teens to take 'no distractions' pledge

Teens and driving can be a safe and independence-celebrating mix—if driving distractions are kept at a minimum. That’s the message AAA Washington and Bellevue native and  Safe Drive Club founder Ishika Binu are sending to Washington youth throughout April. The two recently launched the “Don’t Drive Distracted” campaign to promote safe driving habits and encourage teens to reduce distractions while behind the wheel. 

Biggest distraction: Friends

While cell phones might seem like the biggest danger for distracted driving, the greatest risk to teens is actually driving with friends. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that when a teen driver has only teen passengers in a vehicle, the fatality rate for people involved in a crash increases by 51 percent

Traffic fatalities are up across Washinton, and distracted driving is “playing a key role” in that increase, according to Laura Ray, AAA Washington’s vice president of corporate affairs and environmental, social, and governance.

Distracted stats

Washington State Department of Transportation data on teen accidents shows there were:

  • 1888 teen driver car crashes in 2022, including 9 fatalities and 33 serious injury
  • 1765 crashes, including 8 fatalities and 38 serious injuries in 2023
  • And in 2024, 20 crashes to date, 8 with serious injury 

Ray points out that traffic incidents with teens historically spike during the summer months and during school breaks. “We hope to get this safety message out before this summer’s peak driving season,” she says.

We asked Binu, who created the Safe Drive Club to motivate drivers to commit to distraction-free driving after she was involved in a driving accident, and AAA’s Ray about their experience and hope for the campaign. Here are their responses:

SC: Tell me about the start of Safe Drive Club.

Ishika Binu: In 8th grade (2018), a life-changing event occurred when a car struck my sister, our nanny, and me. The impact resulted in me having a concussion and my sister endured multiple spinal fractures, internal spleen bleeding, and temporary paralysis. Fortunately, we made a full recovery from what could have been a fatal accident. 

This experience changed my perspective on road safety and how quickly and unexpectedly accidents can occur. [Through] research, I discovered that distracted driving stands as a leading contributor to road incidents and fatalities. I created the SafeDrive Club as part of my Girl Scout project with the goal of creating a platform that not only educates new drivers on the risks of distracted driving but also serves as a reminder to experienced drivers. 

SC: Laura, you are a parent. Why is this campaign important to you and your family?

Laura Ray: I have two teens. My oldest is 15 and soon to embark on his driver’s education journey, so this topic is particularly relevant. I read a lot of research about distracted driving. Suffice it to say I am now much more mindful in the car than I used to be. I don’t pick up my phone. I use my voice controls for music. I don’t reach for my purse unless safely stopped. While distractions will happen, my goal is to mitigate risk. 

By modeling these things, I hope my kids see my choices and learn from them. We also have open conversations about the influence a passenger has on a driver’s behavior. If they are with their friends, or anyone, they have the power to speak up to ask the driver to put the phone down. I call it, “power to the passenger.”

SC: What information will go out to teens, and how will it get to them?

Laura Ray: Through our partnership, we are extending Ishika’s message through short videos and calls to action across social media—the way teens often digest information. While we aren’t yet on TikTok, we are on Instagram, a channel many teens use. The videos are also shared across Facebook to reach other audiences, such as the parents, caretakers, teachers, coaches, and other adults in our teens’ lives.

The campaign also encourages teens (and anyone!) to take the “Don’t Drive Distracted” pledge.

SC: What are the most common distractions for teen drivers?

Laura Ray: I was surprised to learn that the leading cause of distraction for teens behind the wheel is not their phones; it’s their friends! That’s not to say that phones aren’t also an issue—phones and cars don’t mix. A driver who is texting is as impaired as a driver with twice the legal blood alcohol content. 

SC: What tips do you offer teen drivers in terms of not driving while distracted?

Ishika Binu: Teenagers can improve their road safety by adopting better driving practices, starting with silencing their phones and storing them in the glove compartment. The increasing use of phones in society has led to a “norm” of texting while driving.

Recognizing and understanding personal limits and distractions is another important strategy. Common distractions such as passengers, the radio, and various features frequently lead to a loss of focus on the road. By identifying what specifically distracts you, you can take proactive steps to minimize these distractions and maintain your concentration on driving

Laura Ray: Most of us can relate to the newfound freedom of getting our driver’s license. With that freedom comes responsibility for making good choices. I mentioned a few tips before, and the larger premise I share with my kids is to do what you can to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. If you need to check your backpack, purse, phone, etc., pull over somewhere safe to stop or ask a passenger in the car to help. And as a passenger, speak up if the driver is making poor choices—research shows they often listen.

For more information and resources on how to drive safely, please visit AAA Washington. To take the DriveSafe Pledge, visit the pledge webpage

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About the Author

Cheryl Murfin

Cheryl Murfin is managing editor at Seattle's Child. She is also a certified doula, lactation educator for NestingInstinctsSeattle.com and a certified AWA writing workshop facilitator at Compasswriters.com.