A new study on distracted driving shows that parents need to focus more on paying attention to their driving, because their teenage passengers are watching closely. Not only that, but the teens surveyed said they were picking up on their parent’s bad habits behind the wheel.

The study, conducted by Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), found an alarming percentage of teens said their parents made poor and risky decisions while driving.

Two-thirds of the teen drivers surveyed (66 percent) said that their parents live by different rules than they expect from their sons and daughters. It is this kind of “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude that is likely contributing to an undermining of the parent-child driving relationship, according to Stephen Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD.

“The best teacher for a teen driver is a good parental role model,” said Wallace. “But parents have to demonstrate good driving behavior from the onset so new drivers understand that safe driving rules apply to everyone equally.”

Distracted driving behavior modeled by parents, picked up by teens

The dangerous driving practices observed by the teens ranged from texting or speeding to driving without a seat belt and even driving under the influence of alcohol or marijuana. Beyond just seeing their parents display such poor judgment, the teens then self-reported doing the same behaviors themselves, once they were behind the wheel.

driving behavior Teens Pick Up On Parents’ Distracted Driving

“Your kids are always observing the decisions you make behind the wheel,” said Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual and managing director of global safety, adding that “they’ve likely been doing so since they were big enough to see over the dashboard.”

While it’s tempting to think that parents only occasionally glance down to see or respond to an incoming text at a stop light or make a quick call, the reality, according to Melton, is that “kids are seeing that in a different way.”

Just answering the phone once for a few seconds while driving legitimizes the action for children, who will then see it as acceptable behavior.

Speaking up can make a difference

The survey also found that few teens actually speak up and ask their driving parent to stop the distracted behavior. Only 21 percent of teens said they’d asked their parents to cease driving when they’d been drinking. However, a more positive outcome occurred when teens did speak up, with 70 percent saying their parents listened and curtailed their bad driving behavior.

The study comprised four focus groups in Boston and Atlanta early this year, followed by a survey of 1,708 eleventh and twelfth graders across the country.


This article originally appeared at The Car Connection.

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