April 11, 2024, Durham, NC – April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, which provides an important opportunity to spread awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and strategies to prevent it. Distractions can come in various forms for drivers, including using a mobile device, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, or fidgeting with a navigation device or radio while driving. Distracted driving can significantly increase the chance of vehicle crashes as well as death or injury for drivers and passengers. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that approximately 3,000 people die in crashes involving distracted driving each year in the United States.1

iRT is dedicated to preventing distracted and impaired driving and helping drivers, prevention professionals, and community members protect themselves and others on the road. iRT has developed innovative, research-based trainings and resources to promote safe driving using both individual and environmental prevention strategies.

Plan My Ride is an interactive, multimedia, eLearning program developed with and for young drivers to teach safe driving skills to prevent distracted and impaired driving. Unlike other safe driving educational programs, Plan My Ride uses a science-backed and theory-driven approach to change behavior by teaching concrete, practical strategies to avoid impaired and distracted driving, and providing opportunities for young drivers to practice the skills they have learned in 360-degree virtual scenarios.

This article is the first in a series of articles describing how each lesson of the Plan My Ride program was strategically designed to help young drivers learn important information and strategies to prevent distracted driving.

Plan My Ride Lesson 1: Driving Essentials

Lesson 1 of Plan My Ride provides an overview of the basic, essential information drivers must understand to drive safely. The lesson begins by describing what students will learn by participating in the program and why the information within the program is important, so students feel more motivated to pay attention and engaged throughout the program. Students understand that by completing the program, they can learn to make responsible decisions to use their seat belt, maintain a safe speed, manage their emotions while driving, avoid distracted driving, avoid drinking alcohol and using drugs while driving, and communicate effectively as a driver or passenger.

Key Skills for Safe Driving

Lesson 1 explains that receiving your driver’s license or learner’s permit and being able to drive is an exciting, but serious responsibility, and drivers must learn certain skills to be safe and responsible. The lesson defines and provides examples of four key safe driving skills including:

1) lane control, which is a driver’s ability to control the position of the vehicle on the road,

2) attention, which includes all of the pieces of information that drivers are observing and thinking about,

3) speed control, which is how fast or slow the vehicle is going and how well a driver can maintain a consistent speed under the speed limit, and

4) reaction time, which is the amount of time it takes a driver to respond to something.

These key skills are referred to throughout the Plan My Ride program to explain how factors like using cell phones while driving can impact each of these skills.

Factors that Impact Safe Driving Abilities

Lesson 1 also includes information and activities for students to learn how various factors can impact their abilities to drive safely. Students discover how environmental factors such as bad weather, road work, crashes, debris, and roadkill can impact their driving. The lesson raises awareness about the fact that these types of environmental factors are usually out of the drivers’ control, yet they can have a profound impact on safety and driving ability.

The lesson also explains how vehicular factors, such as tire inflation, brake failure, a busted windshield, and a broken headlight, can be safety concerns and that it is important for drivers to maintain their vehicle to help prevent these problems from occurring.

In addition, students learn that there are various human factors that are within a driver’s control that can significantly impact their safety. For example, not wearing a seat belt, texting, speeding, eating, using drugs and alcohol, talking on the phone, and putting on makeup while driving are actions that can impact driver and passenger safety.

Students evaluate which factors are within their control and which factors are not and learn strategies to minimize or prevent controllable factors from happening.

The Importance of Wearing a Seat Belt

Lesson 1 aims to teach students the importance of wearing a seat belt every time they are in a vehicle, whether they are a driver or passenger. For example, the lesson includes videos that students can watch to learn more about the physics of seat belts and their ability to protect passengers. In addition, students participate in fun activities to learn common excuses that people have for not wearing a seat belt and why those excuses are dangerous. The lesson targets common misconceptions that young people have about seat belts, such as the beliefs that wearing a seat belt is not cool or that most of their peers do not wear seat belts, by providing students with facts about seat belt safety and teen seat belt use. This content directly addresses the normative beliefs that teens and young adults have about seat belt use, which are a known factor influencing seat belt use behaviors.

The Consequences of Speeding

Lesson 1 emphasizes the importance of following the posted speed limit when driving and describes how speeding can cause myriad consequences. For example, students learn that driving above the speed limit can increase their likelihood of crashing and can increase the severity of a crash, if one does occur. The lesson also describes how speeding can impact drivers’ abilities to stop or brake in time to prevent a crash and negatively impacts their lane control skills, attention, and reaction time. Students explore common reasons that people speed and learn why those reasons are dangerous or illogical. For example, one common reason people speed is because they are in a rush; however, speeding could cause a driver to be pulled over by law enforcement officers, which could significantly increase the time it takes for a driver to get to their destination.

Lesson 1 concludes with a brief knowledge check quiz that students take to practice using information they have learned throughout the lesson. The lesson’s quiz questions, as well as other interactive activities included throughout the lesson, are strategically designed to keep students engaged with the program’s content and increase the chances that students will remember helpful information they have learned after completing the program. The number of correct and incorrect answers to the knowledge check quiz questions can be viewed by teachers or other program administrators to determine if additional instruction or follow-up training is needed to build mastery of the knowledge taught in the program.

If you are interested in offering the Plan My Ride program to young drivers to prevent distracted and impaired driving, visit https://planmyride.net/ to learn more and get started.

  1. National Center for Statistics and Analysis. (2024, April). Distracted driving in 2022 (Research Note. Report No. DOT HS 813 559). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.