Parents' Driving Behavior Is Not Better Than Teens'

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — While parents are preaching to their children to avoid texting while driving and other onerous mistakes, they are guilty of committing those same driving infractions.

Along with checking their smartphones and driving under the influence, 83% of teens said their parents engage in driving behaviors that are unsafe while they are in the car, according to a survey from Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). The study was initiated with a series of focus groups held in Philadelphia and Dallas followed by a survey of 2,537 eleventh and twelfth graders from across the country and 1,000 parents of high school aged teenage drivers.

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The data reveals that the teens are voicing their concerns about how lax their parents are in following road rules. The survey showed that parents admit to committing the dangerous and often illegal driving behavior that they do not want their children to emulate with 86% admitting to talking on a cell phone while driving, 80% admitting to speeding and 40% admitting to texting and driving while 60% of teens said they have asked their parents to stop their unsafe driving habits. What might be surprising is that 41% of teens reported that their parents fail to remedy their behavior.

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"The new data reveals that parents are just as susceptible to distracted driving as teen drivers and often operate under a 'do what I say, not as I do' policy when they are behind the wheel," said Dave Melton, Liberty Mutual Insurance's managing director of global safety. "Research shows that teens often replicate their parents' poor driving behaviors, so it's critical for the safety of everyone on the road that parents be a model for responsible driving whenever they are behind the wheel."

The data also showed that parents do not correct their behavior when their kids are in the car with them, with 83% of teens who say their parents participate in unsafe driving behaviors along with 58% of teens who said they have witnessed their parents texting and driving and 41% have observed their parents driving without a seat belt.

The majority of parents confess that their children are speaking up with 40% who said their teen has asked them to stop driving without a seat belt, 33% say their teen has asked them to stop texting and driving, 26% said their teen has asked them to stop speeding and 23% say their teen has asked them to stop posting social media updates while driving.

"The majority of teens learn to drive from their parents and an open dialogue about safe behaviors on both sides is critical," said Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD, the peer-to-peer youth education, prevention, and activism organization with chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges. "If parents aren't setting the right example for safe driving every time they're behind the wheel, it's probable that teens will learn and mimic those risky behaviors."

Fourteen states along with Washington, D.C. have enacted primary enforcement laws to prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. An officer can cite a driver for using a hand-held cell phone without any other traffic offense taking place.

While no state bans all cell phone use for all drivers, 38 states and Washington, D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice drivers.

In 2007, Washington was the first state to pass a texting. Now 44 states and Washington, D.C. ban text messaging for all drivers.

Both parents and teens need to "initiate frequent and open conversations about responsible driving, to ensure that driving safety is top of mind whenever they're behind the wheel," said Melton. Signing a contract with each other can be a "conversation starter and a customized agreement for the whole family to practice safe driving," he said. The parent and teen driving contract can be downloaded here.

"Perhaps the most alarming data from this new study is not only that parents often engage in the same dangerous driving behaviors that they warn their children against, but also that nearly half of teens say their parents do not change their unsafe driving habits when asked," Melton said. "If and when teens speak up about their parents' unsafe behaviors, parents should take these requests seriously."

One of the major barriers to driving safety for adults and for teens is the inconsistent enforcement of driving laws, said Wallace.

"Human nature is such that if one recognizes the odds of actually getting caught texting and driving, driving without a seatbelt or speeding are relatively low, there is not a lot of incentive to do otherwise," he said. "Especially with teens there is also frequently a 'myth of invincibility,' which tends to remove even a safety related incentive to adhere to safe driving practices."

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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