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Study: Parents Are Key Influence in Teens’ Distracted Driving

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Don't let texting blind you

Parents play an important role in influencing their teens about whether or not to text while driving; and teens text while driving more than their parents think they do, according to a new study by the University of Michigan (UM) Transportation Research Institute and Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. A UM press release quotes Ray Bingham, research professor and head of UMTRI’s Young Driver Behavior and Injury Prevention Group:

Children look to their parents for a model of what is acceptable. Parents should know that every time they get behind the wheel with their child in the car they are providing a visible example that their child is likely to follow.

To conduct the study, during August and September of 2012, UMTRI and Toyota researchers surveyed more than 2,600 newly licensed U.S. drivers between ages 16 and 18, plus nearly 3,000 parents of drivers in that age group. The study included 400 pairs of parents and teens from the same households. Sponsored by Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, the study’s aim was to shed new light on often-discussed driving risks, and to come up with recommendations that will help keep teens safe, and help parents to be more effective role models for driving.

Joann Muller writes for Forbes that the study shows that the teen children of parents who talk on cell phones, send texts, eat or drink while driving are more likely to have the same risky driving behavior. “Driver education begins the day a child’s car seat is turned around to face front,” said Dr. Tina Sayer, principal engineer at Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, which sponsored the study, as Muller writes.

Muller writes that the interesting and worrisome part of the study is: “It turns out that what teens think their parents do behind the wheel matters more than what Mom or Dad actually say they do.” Teens think their parents engage in distracted driving behavior more often than they actually do, which gives teens justification for certain high-risk behaviors behind the wheel, the study’s Bingham said.

And the study finds that parents underestimate how often teens text while driving, as Christine Tierney reports for The Detroit News, with 26% of teens sending or reading a text message from a smartphone at least once each time they drive. Even more alarming, Tierney notes, is that 20% of teens admit to extended, multi-message texting while driving, according to the study.

Tina Sayer, of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center, gives the following advice to parents: “Seat belts and good defensive driving skills are critical. However, the one piece of advice I would give to parents to help them keep newly licensed drivers safe on the road it is to always be the driver you want your teen to be.”

AAA of Colorado offers the following safety tips for parents to prevent texting while driving:

  • Don’t call/text your teen at times when you know they are likely to be driving.
  • Review your teen’s cell phone bill with them to see if they are texting at times they are likely to be driving.
  • Share this information with your teen.
  • Know the Colorado Graduated Drivers Licensing law. It is illegal for teens with an instruction permit to use a cell phone while driving.
  • Establish family rules that prohibit texting while driving.
  • Set a good example, don’t text and drive.


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