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How to prevent your child from driving distracted

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There may not be too many things more nerve-wracking for parents than watching their newly licensed teenager drive away on their own for the first time.

Parents may have a good reason to worry.  Car accidents are the leading cause of death for teenagers in Arkansas. However, teaching your child to be a safe driver begins long before they're old enough to actually drive.

Every time you drive with your kids in the car, you're showing them how you expect them to drive in the future.  So, do you always wear your seatbelt?  Do you text while you drive? The answers to those questions could have life or death consequences for your family.

Knowing the rules of the road has never been a question for Hope Mullins and her 17-year-old daughter Faith.  Hope is an injury prevention specialist at Arkansas Children's Hospital.  She made sure her daughter knew how to be a safe driver before she ever got her license, but that still couldn't protect faith from being in an accident.  In August 2011, another teenager, who police say was distracted while driving, hit Faith head on.  Her mother received the call no parent ever wants to get.

"In Arkansas, 48-50 parents a year get that same call and their child is not alive. So we're lucky because Faith survived, but a lot of other kids don't," said Hope.

It took rescue crews more than an hour to get Faith out of her mangled car. She was alive but her injuries were serious.

"I broke my left femur, my left ulna, radius, elbow and humerus," listed Faith. "They were all compound fractures, so my bones were sticking out of my skin.  I had a burn on my left forearm.  I broke my right wrist and hand and my right ankle and foot. I also had a heart contusion and a concussion."

After multiple surgeries and months of therapy, Faith's scars are healing and she's finally able to start living her life again.

"It was very shocking... is the only way I can describe it," said Faith. "That you could go from being totally normal and doing everything by yourself to being completely dependent.  I couldn't walk. I couldn't lift my phone. I couldn't brush my own teeth. I couldn't feed myself so it was life-changing."

To prevent life changing moments, teens and parents need to know and follow the laws specific to teen drivers in Arkansas. 

Always wear your seatbelt.

Put the cell phone away.  Texting and driving is against the law for teen drivers between the ages of 14 and 17 to use cell phones while driving except for an emergency. 

Be sure to follow the driving curfew. Teen drivers are restricted from driving between 11 PM and 4 AM, the most deadly hours for teens on the road.

Finally, follow the passenger guidelines for teens. It's against the law for a teen driver to have more than one unrelated teenage passenger with them unless an adult is present. 

"As a parent, you can teach your child everything, but if we as a community don't set these expectations for the other kids out there. You see what happens," said Hope.

Many families have their teens sign a safe driving contract, laying out their rules for the road and what will happen if their child violates those rules.  You can see a sample of one of those contracts by clicking here.

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