Teen see, teen do — study finds that parents are modeling bad driving behaviors

Mary Wisniewski
chicagotribune.com

What happens when a parent tells a kid not to swear, but then uses cuss words as though they were commas?

The child will swear.

The same thing happens when a parent tells a teen not to speed, or text and drive, but regularly does it when the teen is in the car, according to safe driving experts.

A new national study found that 37 percent of parents of teen drivers use apps while driving, which is almost at the same rate of teens at 38 percent. The study by Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance also found that parents admit to speeding, driving while tired and even taking selfies behind the wheel at similar or higher rates than teenagers.

“Parents are role models for their teen drivers and when the parent is the ‘rule breaker’ they are setting a bad example,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, a senior educator in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and a Liberty Mutual consultant, in a statement. “I encourage parents and teens to set and agree upon boundaries together to help keep everyone safe on the road.”

The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among teenage drivers than among drivers of other ages, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States, killing eight teenagers daily, the safety board said. An International Transport Forum study found that the United States is leading the world in increased traffic deaths, and distracted driving is the primary cause.

The Liberty Mutual study found that while parents are asking their teens not to text and drive, parents are texting them and expecting a response. The main reasons teens use their phones while behind the wheel are to respond to (47 percent) or contact their parents (44 percent), the study said.

The study also found that 37 percent of parents admit to not enforcing punishments when their child breaks a driving rule, or even the law. Of this group, 38 percent said they do not enforce rules because it is not convenient.

Almost half of teens surveyed (46 percent) and 41 percent of parents who use their phones while driving consider red lights and stop signs to be socially acceptable places to use them. But this can lead to danger, said Mike Sample, a safe driving expert and technical consultant at Liberty Mutual.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an experienced parent driver or a new teen driver, you should always pull over and put your car in park before using your phone to avoid putting yourself and others at a greater risk of an accident or near miss,” Sample said in a statement.

The survey of 2,000 teens and 1,000 parents of licensed teen drivers uncovered some contradictory results. For example, the survey found that while 20 percent of parents admitted to texting and driving, 30 percent of teens said their parents texted and drove, which indicates that some parents may be exaggerating their good behavior.

More than a third of teens said their parents claimed more experience as a justification for bad driving habits, the study found.

Parents surveyed admitted to bad driving behavior at higher or similar rates compared to teens, including speeding (37 percent for parents and 27 percent for teens); driving while drowsy (26 percent and 22 percent, respectively); and taking selfies (14 percent and 15 percent).

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