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Teen Driving Survey

Teen Driving Survey

by Andrea Bennett

Teen Driving Survey

In a perfect world, the sequence of events immediately following your teen driver’s departure from the house would be something like the following: Teen adjusts seat, mirrors and steering wheel to optimize comfort and control, puts the key in the ignition, starts car, places hands on “10” and “2,” drives at or below the speed limit, plays the radio at a reasonably low volume and arrives, distraction-free, at school. But what many teens are actually doing in the car likely involves the addition of at least one of the following: an iPod, a cell phone, several friends, a detour, or a lead foot.

At least those are some of the findings from a survey conducted by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) in 2009. The survey was completed by 2,351 teens in the 11th and 12th grades from 25 randomly recruited high schools across the country, covering topics such as driving distractions, behaviors, and parental involvement.

About a third of teens responded that they are often passengers in a car where another teen driver is text messaging, changing songs on an iPod, speeding or driving with more than three teen passengers in the car. But the news isn’t all cause for concern. For the most part, teens responded that they rarely, if ever, drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They’re also fairly outspoken about asking friends not to drive if they are. The majority — 84 percent — reported that they would ask a driver to refrain from driving after drinking alcohol; about three quarters would ask friends who had used marijuana or (recreationally used) prescription drugs not to drive. And in turn, nine out of ten teen drivers said they would likely refrain from most of these behaviors if they were asked to stop by a passenger.

Teens aren’t quite as outspoken about things they don’t consider as distracting as alcohol and drug use. Only about half of teens said they speak up and ask a driver to stop racing other cars, texting or using a cell phone to access the internet while driving; however, only 18 percent of teens are likely to ask a driver to stop talking on a cell phone. About a third of the students regarded activities like updating their Facebook page or text messaging while driving to be distracting, but only 12 percent of those who use cell phones on the road thought it was very distracting.

The survey found strong differences between genders in their attitudes towards driving distractions. Not surprisingly, girls are significantly more likely than boys to consider nearly all identified unsafe behaviors to be distracting, such as: alcohol and drug use, texting, talking on a cell phone, racing other cars, taking pictures with their cell phone, and speeding. Girls are also more likely than their male counterparts to ask a driver to stop engaging in behavior that could distract them.

The good news is that most teens — 87 percent — say their parents have talked to them about driving safety, some as frequently as every day. And for parents who wonder what their real influence is, three out of five teens said that they drive very safely when they’re in the car with a parent, and this drops to one out of four when more than one friend is in the car. Every parent who can remember what it was like to be a teen won’t be surprised that one half of teenage drivers reported ever lying to their parents about obeying driving laws or where they’re going. Parents who are considering adopting a formal driving agreement to structure their conversation about driving safety with their teen may be happy to know that two-thirds of teens who don’t have any formal driving agreements with their parents said they would sign one if asked, and 71 percent of teens in general said they felt that an agreement would increase their parents’ trust in them.

Read tips on co-authoring a driving agreement with your teen here.

Find more survey highlights here.

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