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Teens and Distracted Driving: The Role of Parents

As parents we’re familiar with being role models for our children, especially when they’re young. But how effective are we as role models for our teenaged children, particularly those who have their driver’s licenses?

According to findings from a national study of teen drivers conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, the parents of teen drivers play a very important role in terms of their influence as role models. The study found a significant correlation between the way teenagers drive and the way their parents drive.

The study involved more than 2,600 newly licensed drivers between the ages of 16 and 18 and 3,000 parents of drivers in this same age group. The researchers found that teens who frequently drove while distracted had parents who exhibited the same kind of behavior while driving.

Interestingly, what teen drivers believed their parents did while driving had more of an impact on teen driving behavior than what parents actually reported doing. According to one of the researchers, believing their parents engaged in more distracted driving behaviors than they actually did may help teen drivers to justify engaging in the same high-risk behaviors while driving.

Over 50 percent of the teen drivers said they used a cell phone while driving, while 60 percent of the parents reported cell phone use while driving. Twenty-five percent of teens reported responding to texts while driving and 30 percent reported reading texts. Among parents, nearly 10 percent responded to texts while driving and 13 percent read texts or emails. An astonishing 20 percent of teens and ten percent of parents said they had held extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

Distraction among teens was not limited to cell phone conversations and texting. The study also found that more than 50 percent of teens searched for music on electronic devices while driving, while ten percent checked or updated social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Distracted driving carries with it potentially tragic consequences. Parents of teenaged drivers can have a significant influence on their children’s driving behaviors. One teen safe-driving expert’s advice? Be the driver you want your teen to be.