Parents should emphasize the importance of safe, cell-phone-free driving to their teens, according to Purnima Unni, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program coordinator at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. The only call teens should make while behind the wheel is in emergency situations – and only then after they’ve pulled over and turned off the engine. Otherwise, they may put their lives and others at risk.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,092 people were killed in 2010 due to crashes involving a distracted driver, and an estimated 416,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver. Recent studies show that cellular phone use may increase crash rates fourfold. Using hands-free models are not associated with significantly less risk.

In addition to turning off the phone, Unni urges parents to pass along the following safe driving tips to their teens:

  • Limit passengers. The risk of fatal teen crashes increases with every additional passenger. With three or more passengers, the fatal crash risk is about four times higher than when a beginner drives alone. Studies also show that teens with passengers are more likely to take risks and be distracted.
  • Slow down. Speed kills. Teens tend to have the need for speed due to their impulsive nature. Thirty-seven percent of male drivers between the ages of 15-20 were speeding right before their fatal crash.
  • Wear seat belts. Seat belts save lives. Everyone in the car needs to buckle up.
  • Enforce the rules with a parent-teen driving agreement. Discuss the rules of the road with your teen, as well as consequences for breaking the rules. Work with your teen to draft and sign a parent-teen driving agreement. Take the keys away if necessary if they break this agreement.
  • Don't drink and drive. Nearly 1 million high school teens drank alcohol and got behind the wheel in 2011. Drinking any alcohol greatly increases the risk for teen crashes. Laws in every state make it illegal for those under 21 to drive after drinking any alcohol. Talk to your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving.

Visit the hospital's Teen Motor Vehicle Safety Program to learn more.