What do seat belts and Elton John have in common? Both garnered the attention of researchers this past week, who point to the impact each has on roadway safety and, from my vantage point, teens.
The results of the latest National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), conducted by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), found that nationwide seat belt use in 2011 held steady at 84 percent. While that’s statistically unchanged from the previous year, a closer look at the data reveals both good news and bad.
Restraint use for all children from birth to 7 years of age increased significantly from 89 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2011. Here in the Northeast, children traveling in vans and SUVS were more likely to be properly restrained in 2011 than in the previous year (good news since mini vans and SUVS are popular family vehicles). But when it comes to teen drivers, they continue to have the lowest belt use rate – 79 percent – of any age group on the road. Teen seat belt use has increased 10 percentage points over the past decade. Recognizing the risk for novice drivers (they’re four times more likely than other drivers to be involved in a crash), however, ensuring that they buckle up every trip is critical.
As the parent of a male teenage driver, I’m particularly attuned to the importance of seat belt use since he, unlike his female counterparts, is less likely to buckle up and more prone to crash. Recently, he was involved in two crashes, one a head-on incident. Thankfully he, his passenger and the other drivers were properly restrained and all walked away without a scratch. Reminding your teen to buckle up -- even if he’s likely to do so without prompting -- can’t be overstated.
How does Elton John factor into traffic safety? Researchers at London Metropolitan University suggest what we listen to while driving impacts how we drive. Not surprisingly, noisy, upbeat music tends to make drivers concentrate more on the music than on the road and to speed up to match the beat of the song. Hip-hop music, meanwhile, makes female motorists drive more aggressively, break harder and accelerate faster, than their male counterparts. The heavy metal playlist causes the fastest driving among men, while dance music has the same impact on women.
So what should we be listening to when we’re behind the wheel? It appears that easy listening music like John’s “Tiny Dancer,” Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me” and “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith” (one of the rocker’s few mellow tunes) top the list. Other songs identified in the study as safest to drive to include “Cry Me a River” by Justin Timberlake, “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz and “Karma Police” by Radiohead. An eclectic mix for sure that’s likely to be scoffed at by my teenage son. But like seat belts, reminding your teen to stay focused on the road and tone down the tunes appears to be worthy of a parent’s attention.
Teens really do listen and that’s the point of this post. Whether we’re reminding them to buckle up, turn down the volume, hang up their cell phone or ease up on the gas, our message isn’t falling on deaf ears. Teens who have parents who stay involved after they’re licensed (they set and monitor rules and maintain a dialogue about safe driving) are more likely to buckle up and less likely to speed, text, and drink and drive. So keep up the chatter and go ahead and insert your copy of “Madman Across the Water” into your car’s CD player when he isn’t looking. Hey, he just might like it.