You probably read about the tragedy in near Hudson, Wis.
Four teenage boys were riding in an SUV on I-94 near their hometown, when they spotted a girl driving in the right lane and wanted to get her attention.
They were trying to find a piece of paper on which to write their phone number to show the girl when they slammed into the back of a stopped semi at 65 miles per hour.
Three of the four died in the crash. They were all 16 or 17 years old.
The Wisconsin State Patrol said distracted driving is to blame. It's a growing problem nationwide.
According to a survey of nearly 900 motorists conducted by State Farm, the use of mobile web services has increased dramatically over the last two years.
In fact, for drivers 18-29:
Accessing the internet while on a cell phone while driving increased from 29 percent in 2009 to 43 percent in 2011.
Reading social media networks while driving increased from 21 percent in 2009 to 37 percent in 2011.
Updating social networks while driving increased from 20 percent in 2009 to 33 percent in 2011.
"While calls from NTSB and others to ban cell phones have focused largely on texting, it would seem that a growing and potentially larger concern for safety advocates is the rapid increase in the use of mobile web services while driving," said David Beigie, State Farm Public Affairs Vice President.
Experts say inexperienced young drivers are far more likely to overestimate their driving ability while underestimating the dangers on the road - making them more likely to speed, tailgate, pass inappropriately, not wear their safety belts, and succumb to peer pressure.
Any parent knows that total control of a teen's behavior is a pipe dream, but traffic safety experts say there are practical ways to help make your teen's 'ride' considerably safer.
- Don't assume driver education makes a safe, capable driver. Major studies reveal that high school driver education programs show little or no effect in reducing crashes. (In fact, they have an unintended negative effect on teen crash involvement by encouraging early licensing among 16-17 year-olds.) While it's safe to assume that driver education helps with basic driving skills and rules of the road, most are simply too short, offering too little behind-the-wheel hours of experience, to be more than a basic driving primer.
- Combine driver education with a lot of parent-supervised driving practice. Research shows that when parents take an active role in their teen's driving education, their child's chances of being in a crash can be reduced by one-third. So invest the time, and take an active, extended role in helping your teenager learn to drive. And remember, a crucial part of being a 'driving instructor' is setting a good example: Teens with crashes and traffic violations often have parents with bad driving records.
- Know and enforce your state's graduated licensing laws. Most states have enacted graduated licensing laws that delay full privileges until beginners are older and more experienced. Most states have core requirements such as no night driving after 9-10 p.m., zero alcohol tolerance, and/or rules preventing more than one young passenger with a beginning driver. Educate yourself on your state's rules and enforce them as family rules.
- Restrict or ban night driving/weekend driving. The rate of fatal nighttime vehicle crashes is six times higher for teenage boys and three times higher for teen girls versus their adult (30-59-year-old) counterparts. So set a household rule, or simply enforce your state's graduated licensing laws re: night driving, to prohibit teens from driving much later than 9 or 10. You should also strongly consider restricting weekend driving, given that more than half of all teen traffic deaths occur on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
- Restrict or ban letting kids drive around with friends. Nearly half of the crash deaths involving 16-year-olds took place when beginners were driving with fellow teen passengers. And the crash risk rises incrementally with one, two, or three or more additional passengers. You should lay down rules to limit social driving.
- Restrict or ban teen cell phone use while driving. More and more young drivers are using a hand-held cell phones and mobile devices while driving. This is a disturbing trend, given that drivers using phones are four times as likely to get into injury crashes - and the consequences are more extreme for young drivers. Make the message loud and clear: No driving and talking, or texting.
- When you choose a car for a teenager, invest in safety features. Roughly 90 percent of parents pass down a family vehicle, or purchase a used vehicle, for their teens. When choosing a vehicle, safety and safety features should be the No. 1 priority. Thankfully, most vehicles less than a decade old have air bags, although they were added to cars before trucks, so be sure to consult the owner's manual, or the steering wheel or dash panel for markings like 'SRS,' 'SIR' or 'SRS/Airbags.' Also look for anti-lock brakes (ABS) (standard in most late-model vehicles), which help young drivers maintain control during hard stops.
- Choose a car with a sedate, not-sporty image. Kids obviously prefer cool, sporty cars, but it's been shown that sports cars, muscle cars or vehicles with a high performance image encourage reckless driving and speeding. A basic family sedan, on the other hand, can reduce the chance that your teen will be involved in a crash.
- Draw up and display a teen-parent driver contract. A written pact creates an opportunity for your family to discuss, understand, and sign off on clear, ironclad safety rules with your child, including enforced seat belt use, a zero alcohol tolerance policy, and rules for driving with friends, night driving, speeding, etc.
The written nature of the Driving Privileges Contract makes it memorable; and if parents sign off on the same rules, kids will be more likely to respect the pact.