Study Finds Parents of Teens are Rule Breakers Behind the Wheel

Study Finds Parents of Teens are Rule Breakers Behind the Wheel

When teens start driving, parents typically set ground rules they need to follow, however a new study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance reveals that more than a third (37 percent) of parents admit to not enforcing punishments when their teen breaks a rule — or even the law. Why the lack of follow through? Thirty-eight percent of parents say that they don’t enforce the rules because it’s an inconvenience. More surprisingly, parents exhibit dangerous driving habits and frequently do so as often as their teens. In fact, 37 percent of parents are using apps while driving compared to 38 percent of teens. This behavior could be establishing and reinforcing bad behaviors behind the wheel for inexperienced teen drivers.

“Rule setting is an important part of helping your teen gain independence, make good decisions and stay safe,” said Dr. Gene Beresin, Liberty Mutual consultant and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Testing boundaries is normal teenage behavior, but if a rule is broken, it’s imperative for parents to follow through and enforce the consequence so the teen will change their behavior in the future and in turn help keep themselves and others safe on the road.”

While parents are asking their teens not to text and drive, parents are still texting them and expecting a response. The study uncovered that the primary reasons teens are using their phones while driving or when they are stopped at red lights are to respond to (47 percent) or contact their parents (44 percent). In addition, the survey found that 46 percent of teens and 41 percent of parents who use their phones while driving consider red lights and stop signs to be socially acceptable places to use their phone, with 37 percent of teens and 34 percent of parents even considering it safe.

“Whether it’s multi-tasking or texting, a seemingly ’quick’ glance away from the road – even when at a stop – can result in a dangerous situation,” said Mike Sample, MS, CSP, lead driving safety expert & 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.”

The survey found that 20 percent of parents admit to texting and driving, though 30 percent of teens say their parents text and drive – a sign that parents may not always be honest about reporting their bad behaviors. From the table below, it is clear parents are engaging in distracted and dangerous behaviors behind the wheel at similar rates as their teens. These include:

Behavior while Driving Parents Teens
Speeding 10+mph 37% 27%
Multi-tasking 27% 23%
Driving when drowsy 26% 22%
Checking phone notifications 26% 21%
Texting 20% 18%
Driving with headphones on 19% 17%
Taking selfies 14% 15%

While 84 percent of parents say they change their behavior when asked, only 56 percent of teens say this is true.

“Parents are role models for their teen drivers and when the parent is the ‘rule breaker’ they are setting a bad example. I encourage parents and teens to set and agree upon boundaries together to help keep everyone safe on the road,” said Beresin.

How Parents Can Encourage Safe Driving Behavior with Teens
Teenagers are constantly learning from their parents and it’s crucial for parents to set a good example behind the wheel. Beresin and Sample offer the following tips to help parents encourage safe driving behaviors with their teen:

  • Set rules and enforce them: The survey found that 30 percent of those who don’t always enforce consequences say it’s because it’s hard to monitor their teens. Some tools (such as Liberty Mutual’s RightTrack) can help monitor your teen’s behavior on the road by observing a person’s driving habits and rewarding them with savings for the safe choices they make on the road. If a rule is broken, an effective consequence should encourage teens to change their behavior. It’s recommended that the consequence is connected to the original behavior and is both task and time specific, such as taking away driving privileges for one week.
  • Experience doesn’t always equal safe: The survey found that 36 percent of teens say their parents claim more experience as the justification for these bad behaviors. No matter how many years they have been driving, it is important for parents to model good driving behavior and follow the rules of the road. If parents aren’t following rules such as driving over the speed limit, checking social media or texting while driving, the parent isn’t being a good role model for their teen and are showing them that rules aren’t important.
  • Encourage open communication: Parents should speak with their teens about safe driving practices beginning at a young age before the teen even starts driving. Use a Teen Driving Contract as a conversation starter and discussion guide. This tool covers important safety issues and is an easy roadmap for parents and teens alike to start a discussion while upholding family driving rules.

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