Family time is one of the best gifts of the season. We know that, as simple as it sounds, family time provides a strong foundation for many aspects of a good life including, we are learning, a safer (or riskier) driving life.
A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, sponsored by Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan recently found that parents have a significant influence in how their teens drive. From a survey of more than 2,600 newly-licensed drivers aged 16 to 18 and nearly 3,000 of their parents, researchers concluded that there is “a significant correlation between parent and teen behaviours behind the wheel, suggesting parents can play an influential role in modeling risky behaviour on the road.”
One reporter summed it up this way “In other words, when they’re behind the wheel, your kids are not doing as you say, but rather as you do.” So if what you do while driving your kids includes engaging in distracting behaviours like texting or eating or debating, guess what your kids are likely to do when they get behind the wheel, whether or not they tell you they don’t or won’t?
And, as Tina Sayer, CSRC principal engineer and teen driving safety expert said, “Driver education begins the day a child’s car seat is turned around to face front. The one piece of advice I would give to parents to help them keep newly licensed [teen] drivers safe on the road … is to always be the [good, safe] driver you want your teen to be.”
The same study also found, however, that parental driving behaviour, as good (or bad) as it may be, is obviously not the only factor influencing newly licensed teen drivers. The generational divide almost inevitably puts parents at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with smart phones and smart friends. The same study found that teen drivers do a lot more texting behind the wheel than their parents think they do.
Of the teen drivers surveyed, 26 percent said they read or sent a text message from a Smartphone at least one time every time they drove. Only one percent of the parents surveyed believed their teen engaged in such risky driving behavior. One in five teens— 20 percent—admitted to multi-message text conversations while driving. More than half of the teens searched for music on a portable music device while driving, while only 12 percent of parents said they did this. One in 10 teens updated or checked social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter while driving.
This survey information gives no comfort to parents. But forewarning of this kind is at least something. One thing you might want to do is take a drive with your newly licensed teen at the wheel. Watch and listen and help if you are asked. You may even be able to insert a bit of advice into any driving-related conversation. A drive like this could be one of the most precious gifts your child ever receives from you.