Studies Find Teens Copy Their Parents’ Driving Behavior

Despite nationwide campaigns, advertising and even celebrity endorsements meant to make teens safer drivers, car accidents remain the top cause of fatalities for young drivers. A recent study conducted by Toyota and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute suggests where teens may get some of their unsafe driving behavior that puts them – and others – at risk. According to the study, their parents’ driving behavior is a major influence on teens’ driving habits.

Another survey conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) backs up this finding. In addition to mirroring behaviors, between 21 and 86 percent of teens believe their parents exhibit driving habits that are contrary to the safety-centered rules they set for their teens.

What do other studies say about parental influence on teen drivers?

These are not the only studies that have examined the role parents play in their teens driving habits. Others have confirmed and expanded on the finding that a parent’s influence is key in teens who are careful, responsible drivers.

A study by Travelers found that, among teens who said their parents exhibit poor driving habits:

  • 24 percent have a history of multiple accidents
  • More than twice as likely to have a future accident
  • 15 percent have received more than one moving violation

Having conversations about driving behaviors is helpful. Among teens whose parents do not discuss safe driving with them, 67 percent of new drivers say they are open to having that conversation. More than half of them are waiting for their parents to initiate it, though.

The Allstate Foundation also studied teen drivers and the influence of parents, publishing the results in its Driving Change Report. Findings found a number of ways in which teens took risks that parents were not aware of. This includes:

  • 79 percent of teens say they speed, although only about 55 percent of parents say their teens break the speed limit.
  • 23 percent of teens say they drink and drive, but 7 percent of parents believe their teen may have engaged in this behavior.
  • 87 percent of teens text or talk on the phone behind the wheel, while only 63 percent of parents believe this is true.

How can parents use this to improve their teen’s driving habits?

What these studies tell us is that teens take much more than their eye or hair color from their parents. They also model many of their habits — including driving behaviors — after their parents and other adults. If a parent speeds, ignores traffic laws, or texts while driving, the teen may do the same.

And this influence does not begin when your teen turns 16. The motto of the aforementioned Toyota study was, “Driver education begins when the car seat starts facing forward.” This serves as a good reminder that as early as preschool your children begin to pick up safe driving habits while riding with you. Practicing safe driving habits and talking with older children and teens about safe driving behaviors is key in ensuring your children develop responsible habits behind the wheel.