Parkland Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Stephen Wallace Stephen Wallace

Guest View

Thursday, September 19, 2013 by STEPHEN WALLACE SADD SENIOR ADVISOR in Opinion

Dangerous driving by parents equals dangerous driving by teens, SADD says

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many teen-agers will be behind the wheel visiting family and friends … and often copying the driving behavior of their parents.

But, is that a good thing? Not necessarily.

New research from SADD and Liberty Mutual Insurance reveals an alarming example of "do what I say, not what I do" when it comes to distracted and dangerous driving.

For example, 66 percent of teens believe their parents follow different rules behind the wheel than they set for their children, with approximately 90 percent of teens reporting their parents speed and talk on a cell phone while driving.

Parent Driving


Specifically, the survey found teens observe their parents exhibiting the following driving behavior at least occasionally:

·Ninety-one percent talk on a cell phone;

·Eighty-eight percent speed;

·Fifty-nine percent text message;

·Twenty percent drive after drinking alcohol; and

·Seven percent drive after using marijuana.

In addition, teens report nearly half of parents (47 percent) sometimes drive without a seatbelt.

What's the harm?

Prior driving research from SADD and Liberty Mutual points out parents are the No. 1 influence on teen driving behavior.

Teen Driving Behavior:

Thus, it may be no surprise teens repeat these driving behaviors in almost equal numbers to their parents:

·Ninety percent talk on a cell phone;

·Ninety-four percent speed; and

·Seventy-eight percent send text messages.

Also, 15 percent of teens report driving after using alcohol.

Modeling Driving


In short, the link between the observed and self-reported driving behaviors indicates parents are modeling destructive driving and that their teens are following suit.

"These findings highlight the need for parents to realize how their teens perceive their actions," says Dave Melton, a driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and its managing director of global safety. "Kids are always observing the decisions parents make behind the wheel and may see unsafe driving as acceptable."

Teens Can

Influence Parents:

Similar to past data showing the power of teens to correct poor driving behavior by peers, the same holds true for a car being driven by their parents: nearly three-quarters (70 percent) of the teens surveyed reported that their parents listen to them and change their poor driving behavior when they point out dangerous driving practices.

Unfortunately, not many do. So, job one is to empower young people to make their discomfort with unsafe driving known to drivers, whoever they are.

What else might help keep kids and adults safe and alive? Ongoing family dialogue about rules for the road that apply equally for everyone.

Indeed, more than a decade of research by SADD and Liberty Mutual point to the potency of open, honest conversations between parents and teens … conversations often made easier and more effective by the signing of behavior contracts that make clear the expectations for both sides.

The Parent/Teen Driving Contract is one tool and is available for free at:

This way, "Do as I say" becomes synonymous with "Do as I do."


Stephen Wallace serves as senior advisor for policy, research, and education at SADD and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education at Susquehanna University.