Survey: Teen drivers' bad behavior often mirrors parent's actions

John Egan

It appears that parents need to practice what they preach when it comes to driving.

In a survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Driving), 91 percent of American teens reported their parents had talked on a cellphone while driving, 88 percent had speeded and 59 percent had sent text messages behind the wheel. Furthermore, 47 percent of teens said their parents had driven at least occasionally without a seat belt, 20 percent had driven after drinking alcohol and 7 percent had driven after smoking pot.

As for the teens themselves:

  • 94 percent of teens said they had speeded.
  • 90 percent reported talking on a cellphone while driving.
  • Nearly 80 percent of teens acknowledged texting while driving.
  • 33 percent report said they had driven without a seat belt.
  • 16 percent reported having driven after smoking marijuana.
  • 15 percent said they had driven after drinking alcohol.

In all, 66 percent of teen drivers said their parents live by a different set of rules behind the wheel.

"The best teacher for a teen driver is a good parental role model," Stephen Wallace, senior adviser for policy, research and education at SADD, says in a news release.

"Parents and teens should have an active and ongoing dialogue about safe driving behavior and take the conversation one step further by signing a parent-teen contract," Wallace adds. "But parents have to demonstrate good driving behavior from the onset so new drivers understand that safe driving rules apply to everyone equally."

The survey, which questioned more than 1,700 teens, found that few teens will ask a parent to stop engaging in distracting behavior while driving. For example, only 21 percent of teens said they'd ask their parents to stop driving after drinking alcohol.

"These findings highlight the need for parents to realize how their teens perceive their actions," says Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual.

"Your kids are always observing the decisions you make behind the wheel and, in fact, have likely been doing so since they were big enough to see over the dashboard," Melton adds. "You may think you only occasionally read a text at a stop light or take the odd 30-second phone call, but kids are seeing that in a different way. Answering your phone once while driving, even if only for a few seconds, legitimizes the action for your children and they will, in turn, see that as acceptable behavior."