It's a contract full of such vows as "I will find sunglasses before driving," "I will wait until stopped to search for music" and "I will rely on passengers to make calls or text for me" – signed by teens before hitting the road as new drivers.
The teen-parent driving agreement is just one of the many free online tools offered to young drivers, parents, families, schools and communities through the new Kohl's Drive Smart initiative launched this summer.
A $299,497 grant from Kohl's Department Stores is made possible through the Kohl's Cares cause merchandise program. Through this initiative, Kohl's sells $5 books and plush toys, where 100 percent of net profit benefits children's health and education programs nationwide, including hospital partnerships like this one. The grant has allowed the pediatric trauma program at University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital to develop a novel, evidence-based program designed to reduce distracted teen driving. The program was developed in conjunction with U-M Injury Center and U-M Transportation Research Institute.
The effort comes as traffic accidents continue to be the leading cause of death for American teens, with research pointing to distracted driving as a common culprit.
"Teen drivers and their passengers are at particular risk of injury from car accidents and we see every day how even the most simple, seemingly innocuous distractions can result in tragedy," says Peter Ehrlich, M.D., director of the Pediatric Trauma Center at U-M's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and the principal investigator of the grant.
"Our goal is to increase awareness of the dangers and reality of distracted driving and to empower both teens and their parents with strategies to make impactful changes in driving habits. We are thankful for this generous gift from Kohl's that will support our efforts to educate drivers and make our roads safer."
Kohl's Drive Smart's new website kohlsdrivesmart.org includes an interactive teen driving simulation that asks teens what they would do in common scenarios such as hearing a ping on their phones alerting them of a message or if friends are laughing and ask the driver to turn around to see something. An online driving toolkit also offers the parent-teen agreement and safe driving tips for drivers, passengers and families.
The campaign will also roll out digital and mobile advertising targeting teens and parents that show the effects of distracted driving on teen drivers while sharing statistics about distracted driving, crash rates and parent role modeling. At least one local driver's education program in Saline has already used parts of the Kohl's Drive Smart initiative for its teen students.
Much of the initiatives target not just teens but parents who researchers believe play an important role in teens' driving habits. The parent-teen agreement holds parents accountable too, asking them to check boxes promising to limit distractions and to "be a good role model," "provide a safe ride home (no questions at that time)" and "apply rules fairly and consistently."
"We know that it is not only important for parents to regularly talk to their kids about distracted driving but to be a good role model for what safe driving looks like," Ehrlich says. "Parents who occasionally eat fast food in the car or take a quick phone call should remember that their kids are watching. Young people who perceive that their parents drive while distracted tend to do the same."
Research shows that the majority of drivers do at least one distracted driving behavior every time they drive – including 87 percent of adults and 92 percent of teens. Teens are four times more likely to crash or nearly crash when distracted and adults are twice as likely.
The online toolkit includes tips on preventing and minimizing distractions for both drivers and their passengers. Tips for passengers include offering to navigate, securing pets and taking care of children so the driver can focus on the road. Parents may also use the website information for conversation starters with both their teen driver and also with their 12-14 year olds to encourage them to be calm, quiet and helpful passengers.
Kohl's Drive Smart's multi-format campaign will target parents and teens via mobile marketing banner ads, digital billboards, streaming audio, social media and geo-fencing to catch young people at popular teen destinations like movie theaters. Brochures and reminder sheets will also be distributed at driver's education graduations, community events, county fairs and by health providers.