It’s time for adults to start modeling good driving habits for teens. How can we expect new drivers to ignore a text or phone call, obey the speed limit, wear a seat belt, leave the make-up application, shaving, and bagel/coffee juggling for another time, and never ever get behind the wheel after (or while) drinking when they see more experienced drivers doing all of the above all the time?

May is National Youth Traffic Safety Month. Not coincidentally, it’s also prom season (Weston’s is next weekend) and the beginning of graduations and end-of-the-school-year party time. These are occasions that mark a transition in American teenagers’ lives, a move from childhood to adulthood. But when the adults they look to for guidance and example-setting are making bad choices, the road to adulthood can be bumpy at best and disastrous at worst.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is the number one killer of American teens. Nationwide in 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed and an additional 416,000 were injured due to distracted driving, which includes texting while driving.

In Connecticut, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) says motor vehicle crashes are the number one cause of death for 15- to 19-year-olds. Talking on the phone or with passengers, texting, selecting radio stations and other distractions increase the risk of a serious crash. George Jepsen, the state’s attorney general, put it this way: “Driving is one of the most dangerous hazards facing young adults. Texting while driving is a distraction young drivers can live without.”

There are hefty fines and consequences to getting caught texting while driving (including the loss of one’s license). But the consequence of doing it and NOT getting “caught” — and instead getting hurt, hurting others, or worse — can be far more serious.

Take a few minutes this month to talk to everyone you know who drives a car, young and old, and remind them driving is a serious responsibility and warrants one’s full, sober, undivided attention at all times. But first, examine your own behavior behind the wheel and ask yourself if it’s how you want your child or the person coming towards you and your loved ones on the road to be driving.

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