Talking teen driver safety

Project Gearshift campaign aims to raise awareness of three key issues for teens: distracted, impaired and emotional driving

By Andrew Wong

Over 100 high school students attend the 2013 Youth Symposium at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

Over 100 high school students attend the 2013 Youth Symposium at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre.

Turning 16 is an exciting time for Canadian teenagers, as it was for my friends and me. We would take Drivers’ Ed and soon be able to drive around together without parental supervision.

Like many teens, we weren’t thinking much about the risks of driving, nor did we consider the possibility of a road crash.

In fact, Transport Canada research finds about 13 per cent of licensed drivers on Canadian roads are between the ages of 16 and 24, yet they account for about 24 per cent of road fatalities and 26 per cent of serious injuries.

Fortunately for me and for thousands of other students across Canada, my high school became involved with Parachute’s No Regrets peer-led program, which aims to help young people become aware of their risks of injury and how to prevent them.

I joined my school’s No Regrets team and we elected to tackle distracted driving. We engaged our school community though a distracted video gaming competition, classroom visits and postering campaigns.

I stayed involved with Parachute after high school and am now a senior ambassador for Project Gearshift, a new teen driver safety campaign developed with the support of State Farm.

Research behind Project Gearshift pointed to three main issues for teen drivers: distracted driving, impaired driving and emotional driving. Distracted driving has received a lot of attention lately.

A 2013 study by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators on drivers’ use of electronic communication devices found that 7.1 per cent of drivers under 25 were seen using an electronic device, compared to 5.5 per cent of 25-49-year-olds and 2.4 per cent of those 50 and older. But it’s not just cellphones: teens can also be distracted by boisterous friends or loud music.

Impaired driving can involve drinking, drugs as well as driving while sleepy. Teens are at particular risk during late hours, as this is when they are most likely to be tired or drink alcohol or take drugs.

Finally, one issue less talked about is emotional driving.

Emotions can run high among teens (e.g., driving after a fight with parents or a boyfriend or girlfriend), which can influence their driving, leading them to drive aggressively or recklessly.

Parents can have a positive influence on their teens by setting reasonable rules and consequences to encourage safe driving practices. Your teens are also watching you, so modelling safe driving yourself is a great starting point.

In my work with Parachute, I’ve learned of the diversity of road safety issues in Canada. While a Project Gearshift group in Ottawa may focus on pedestrian safety, the Northwest Territories may be promoting safe ATV-ing.

Project Gearshift recognizes each community has its own issues and its youth can choose which ones to address.

During National Teen Driver Safety Week (Oct. 20-26), Project Gearshift brought more than 100 high school students to Ottawa’s National Arts Centre to discuss teen driver safety. Creating safer roads starts with awareness of the issues in each community, then showing the public how they can be the change.

Learn more and show your support for teen driver safety at or for more information about injury prevention in Canada, visit