UM study finds teens mimic parent’s texting and driving habits

(Tom Alexander/MJ)

By SCOTT BOLTHOUSE, Staff Writer

A study by the University of Michigan Transportation Institute and Toyota Motor Corp. found that teens who think their parents are distracted drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors themselves.

The survey, which included more than 5,500 teens between the ages of 16-18, as well as their parents, is the largest of its kind, and found that teenagers text while driving more often than adults. Some of the other causes for distraction included eating while driving, looking for things in the vehicle, as well as focusing on their passengers.

Unfortunately for parents, teens text behind the wheel far more often than they expected. According to the study, 26 percent of teens read or send a text from a smart phone at least once every time they drive. However, the study found that only one percent of parents believe their teen does this. Even more frightening is that the study found that one in five teens admit to having extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.

Teens look to the behavior of their parents, and essentially mimic those same actions. When a teen observes his or her parents looking for things in the vehicle while driving, the teen is four times more likely to also look for something while driving, compared to a teen who does not witness this behavior from a parent.

Each year, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. Last year, on average, seven teens died per day from car accident related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The main point of the study: parents can do a lot to teach their new drivers good habits on the road. “Seat belts and good defensive driving skills are critical,” said Tina Sayer, principal engineer at the Collaborative Safety Research Center. “Be the driver you want your teen to be.”

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