If you’re a parent, you want to teach your kids to be smart and safe behind the wheel. It’s right there in the job description. But recent data gathered by Aceable—a mobile-first provider of online drivers-education and defensive-driving courses—suggests parents might be telling more than showing.
“We recently conducted a survey of over 1,200 teen drivers in Texas, California and Florida,” says Nick Schurk, data manager for Aceable. “The main thing we found is that both teens and parents are driving distracted. Though it’s more about talking on the phone for parents and texting for teens, the main finding is this—teens learn to use cell phones while driving from their parents.”
Approximately 75 percent of teens surveyed reported their parents engage in distracted driving—whether texting, talking on the phone, eating, or grooming/applying makeup. Talking on the phone proved to be the biggest distraction, with nearly 40 percent of teens reporting their parents engaged in this particular activity while driving.
The survey had teens report their observations while riding with two generations of drivers: their parents and their peers. Essentially, each respondent was asked: “Which distraction do your parents/guardian [or friends] most often engage in while driving?” They were then presented with the options listed above.
“Teens report their peers drive distracted slightly less often than their parents,” says Schurk. “While less than 25 percent of teens report their parents ‘never drive distracted,’ over 28 percent of them said the same of their friends.”
Not surprisingly, mobile phones are the biggest temptation for both generations. While eating and grooming were two categories assessed in the survey, respondents said some 62 percent of parents and 54 percent of peers drove distracted while either talking or texting on their phones.
In 2013, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) released a landmark study showing that one in four crashes in Texas involve driver distraction. TTI found that, on average, a driver who texts takes their eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds while doing so—at a speed of 50 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed.
Beyond research, TTI has a history of promoting safe driving habits, particularly among teen drivers. In 2002, Russell Henk, director of TTI’s Youth Transportation Safety Program, created the peer-to-peer Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program aimed at educating Texas teens about their five most dangerous driving risks. In Texas alone, fatal crashes involving drivers aged 15 to 17 have dropped nearly 70 percent since the program’s inception—due, at least in part, to TDS’s statewide, multi-year reach. Working with partners like State Farm and others, TDS has spread beyond the borders of the Lone Star State and now reaches some 1,000 schools and 1 million teens nationwide.
“Aceable’s findings are, unfortunately, not surprising,” says Henk. “In fact, in 2014, TDS produced a video titled Parent Drivers: A Model for Life aimed at reminding parents that they’re role models for their children, especially when they’re behind the wheel. If parents more often practiced what they preached, young drivers might not be as prone to pick up bad driving habits in the first place.”
As Aceable expands its driver education curriculum to other states, this survey and future ones like it will help them create more practical and effective course materials.
“We already infuse our courses with humor and engaging multimedia content to encourage learning retention in our students,” observes Schurk. “Surveys like this help us better understand them and others, like their peers and parents, who most influence their driving habits. And if we can capture that, if we can better tailor our materials to that reality, we can ultimately help save lives.”