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Parents Who Take Risks Have Teen Drivers Who Take Risks

Despite crackdown, new study finds teen texting while driving “remains commonplace.”

by on Nov.27, 2012

Teens often mimic -- good or bad -- the driving behavior of their parents.

Despite a nationwide crackdown on distracted driving, a new study finds teen texting “remains commonplace,” though the research also revealed that parents have a strong impact on the sort of risks young drivers take behind the wheel.

The study found that parents who don’t follow safe practices behind the wheel are likely to have children who also take risks. And that behavior is typically learned at a very young age.

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“Driver education begins the day a child’s car seat is turned around to face front,” said Dr. Tina Savor, a teen driving behavioral expert at Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, or CSRC. “The one piece of advice I would give to parents to help them keep newly licensed drivers safe on the road it is to always be the driver you want your teen to be.”

The new study was conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, or UMTRI, and sponsored by Toyota.  It focused on teen driving behavior and involved a nationwide telephone survey of 5,500 young drivers and parents – as well as personal interviews with 400 teens and their parents. Local surveys also were conducted in six cities including Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles.

Distracted driving has become a serious topic in recent years, federal authorities indicating it plays a major factor in as much as 11% of U.S. roadway fatalities.  The problem is especially severe among teens, for whom motor vehicle crashes are the single leading cause of death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of seven teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die every day due to motor vehicle injuries.

UMTRI and CSRC’s preliminary findings suggest that despite increased awareness – as well as increasing enforcement of new laws – teens continue to text behind the wheel at an alarming rate.

The study also found a direct correlation between the driving patterns of parents and how teens eventually behave behind the wheel.  Young drivers model their own driving on what they observe from the earliest ages. The study found that what teens observe – or think their parents do – is more important than what parents say.

Among key findings:

  • Nearly a third of teens read text messages while driving and one in four will respond to a message every time they drive;
  • More than one in ten check and update social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, while driving;
  • If a teen thinks his or her parent will go looking for something in the car while driving, the teen is four times more likely to do the same thing;
  • Those teens whose parents eat or drink while driving are twice as likely to do the same.

The study also discovered that parents underestimate the risky behaviors their children engage in – even though teens over-estimate the distracted driving behavior of their parents.

According to the preliminary report, A third of teens…believe that their parents use an electronic device for music while driving, while only one in ten parents report that they do so. Seventy-one percent of teens believe that their parents read or write down directions while driving, while 55% of parents say they do so. Eighty-five percent of teens believe that their parents deal with passenger issues while 70% of parents say they do so.”

On the other hand, teens are 26 times more likely to read or send texts while driving than their parents think they do. Only 1% of parents believe their teens read or send a text every time they drive. In reality, it’s closer to 26%.

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