Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Before they get behind that wheel, show them this one.

April 20, 2017

Probability wheel for teen distracted driving.
Photo: The distracted driving probability wheel shows that if a teen drives at night with three passengers while reaching for an object and texting, their risk of getting into a crash increases 2,382 percent.​

Imagine your teen driving alone during the day without any distractions. Safe, right? Now imagine your teen picks up a friend. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but your teen’s risk of a crash just increased by 139 percent. Now let’s say night has now fallen and your teen has picked up two more passengers, is texting, and makes a grab for something that fell on the floor. The probability of a crash skyrockets 2,382 percent.

That’s how a new program in Kandiyohi County is helping teen drivers and their parents learn not to drive distracted: by using a probability wheel. By lining up various factors such as day/night, number of passengers, adjusting hair or makeup, and talking on the phone, teens can see how the decisions they make can affect their chances of getting in a crash.

But the best part is where they’re seeing these probability wheels: at the doctor’s office. When a teen goes for a sports physical or well-child checkup at the Family Practice Medical Center in Willmar, there’s a probability wheel on the desk in the exam room. Clinic Manager Stacey Zondervan says teens and their parents often pick it up and play with it while they’re waiting for the doctor to come in — and then when the doctor arrives, they can all have a discussion about safe driving practices. “Teens don’t appreciate those lengthy lectures about the bad things they’re doing, but the wheel gives them an opportunity for self-discovery,” says Zondervan.

Why doctors? Gordy Pehrson, Safe Roads Coordinator for the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety, explains: “Traffic crashes are the second leading cause of death for Minnesota teens, so doctors have a vested interest in helping teens to be safer drivers and passengers.” Stephanie Felt, coordinator of the Kandiyohi County Traffic Education and Safety Team, says the result is consistent messaging about distracted driving from trusted sources: law enforcement, schools, and now doctors.

Felt, who discovered the probability wheel at a conference last year, was the one to give them to healthcare providers to use. “The messaging coming from medical providers is important, because people trust their doctors, and doctors don’t have a lot of time to waste on things that aren’t important.”

Another key factor is having a parent in the room for the discussion. “Parents are the ones who hold the keys to their teen drivers and play a vital role in their safety,” says Pehrson.

The hope is that this multi-pronged approach, combined with the tangible example of the dangers involved, will help teens practice safe driving. “It’s one thing to say ‘don’t drive distracted,’” says Felt. “It’s another to ask about specific risk factors and show teens on the wheel how dangerous it is.”