Distracted Driving: Parents Set Bad Example for Teens

Adam Kosloff

Are the blind leading the blind when it comes to driving habits? According to a State Farm survey, a lot of parents are setting a bad example just at the time when it's most important for them to set a good one -- when they're teaching their teens to drive.

The online survey questioned more than 500 pairs of new teen drivers and their parents about distracted driving behavior. Sixty-one percent of teens said their parent was distracted by a cellphone or other electronic device while that parent was teaching them to drive. Roughly half of the parents confessed they were distracted at least once while their teen was in the driver's seat.

How often were these parents distracted? Nearly a third of teens said their parents were distracted “sometimes, often, or all the time” during practice drives. What's even worse is that many of these parents are hardly role models while they themselves are behind the wheel. More than half of the teens surveyed said they'd caught their parents using cellphones while driving.

“These results are troublesome on multiple levels,” says Laurette Stiles, vice president of strategic resources at State Farm. “Parents should know that how they handle themselves behind the wheel creates a powerful example for their teens -- for better or worse."

State Farm's survey also indicates that the parents thought they had not adequately trained their teenagers -- that they had not spent enough time teaching them or listening to their concerns. If teens are being given the message that distracted driving is acceptable, that could spell trouble for their auto insurance premiums. Teen car insurance premiums already are high because of new drivers' lack of experience behind the wheel. If a teen gets in distracted driving accident -- or any other type of at-fault accident -- his or her insurance premiums will shoot up even higher.

To lessen the chance that your teen becomes a habitual distracted driver, here are some tips from Allstate and the Parent Teacher Association:

  • Practice good cellphone etiquette. Ignore your ringing phone while you're behind the wheel. If you must, pull into a parking lot or off to the side of the road and return the call.
  • Discuss safe driving with your teen in an openhearted, compassionate way.
  • Find out what your teen thinks is “socially normal” when it comes to using a phone while driving, and express any concerns that you have.
  • Make firm rules. Draw up a "contract" with your teen about safe driving habits you've both agreed to follow.
  • Encourage your teen to ask a passenger to be “designated texter” -- someone who responds to texts while your teen is driving.

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