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Parent’s Actions May Send Conflicting Messages to Teens Regarding Distracted Driving

Parents and family members tend to spend time teaching children the mechanics of driving, such as parallel parking and three-point turns, but may fail to recognize that young drivers are also influenced by adult driving habits they witness over the years, while passengers in the car.

A recent study, conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students against Destructive Decisions) shows that if we hope to improve our teenagers driving skills, we may need to begin with a long hard look in the mirror. Our child’s driving behaviors often reflect our own.

The study queried 1,700 teens across the country, concerning their own driving behaviors, as well as those of their parents. The results were disturbing. Of the students surveyed, an alarming percentage witnessed their parents engaging in dangerous behaviors while driving.

The correlation between the “observed”, and “self-reported” driving behaviors, reveals parents are modeling destructive driving behavior, and their teens follow suit. The following, is a side-by-side comparison of the survey data reported when teens were asked how frequently they engage, and witness their parents engaging, in dangerous vehicular behavior:
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Clearly, this survey would indicate that as role models for responsible vehicular use, a large number of parents are failing. Students have verified that parents play the most vital roll in influencing their driving traits, and it appears that we simply have not made the grade in teaching safe driving habits through modeled behavior.

As stated by Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety: “These findings highlight the need for parents to realize how their teens perceive their actions. Your kids are always observing the decisions you make behind the wheel, and in fact have likely been doing so since they were big enough to see over the dashboard. You may think you only occasionally read a text at a stop light or take the odd thirty-second phone call, but kids are seeing that in a different way. Answering your phone once while driving, even if only for a few seconds, legitimizes the action for your children and they will, in turn, see that as acceptable behavior.”

While engaging in risky driving behaviors ourselves, we may be undermining the verbal lessons we teach our children. In fact, we are; and this dichotomy is not lost on our children who reported 66 percent of the time, that parents do not follow the same rules which are expected of them. This “do as I say, not as I do” attitude is undermining the parent/child relationship when it comes to driving.

This is further evidenced by the fact that a relatively small number of teenagers, only 21 percent, would feel comfortable addressing poor driving behaviors exhibited by their parents; clearly pointing to an opportunity for improved parent/child communications. Where children did have the courage to broach these subjects, their efforts proved effective, with 70 percent of the parents approached, positively receiving the feedback, and altering their behavior. This is reassuring news. In an effort to initiate dialogue and set equitable family driving guidelines, the members of Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD suggest that families create a Parent/Teen Driving contract.

Briggs & Wholey attorneys know that distracted driving is a serious problem worthy of our attention. In 2010, for example, 18% of injuries related to automobile accidents were caused by distraction-affected crashes harming approximately 416,000 people, as cited by We all need to become more cognizant of our actions behind the wheel and aware of their impact upon others.

We have taken many precautions to protect our young drivers. We have made legislative changes implementing a system of graduated licensure; to require more time and training behind the wheel, as well as limit a young driver’s exposure to hazardous situations by imposing driving restrictions for new licensees such as limiting passengers, hours of operation, and prohibiting cell phone use. We have sought to provide continual “safe driving” messages through educational campaigns. We must not underestimate the example we, as parents, set as drivers towards modeling our children’s behavior behind the wheel. In short, we must practice what we preach.

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