Parents frequently warn their teens about the dangers of using a smartphone while driving, but it looks as though they aren’t even taking their own advice, and in many cases, are the ones ingraining that habit in their children, according to a new study by Aceable Driving and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).
In a survey of more than 1,200 teen drivers age 14-18 in Texas, California, and Florida, Aceable found that while there are differences between the types of distracted driving for parents and teens, cell phone use while driving is a behavior that teens learn from watching their parents. The survey was completed in preparation for National Teen Driver Safety Week.
Parents More Distracted by Phones While Driving than Teens
Distracted driving is a major public safety threat. Most people have seen campaigns promoting awareness of the problem, studies on its deadly effects, and new laws against it. This raises the question: What differences in distractions are teens exposed to when riding in vehicles with their parents versus their friends? In their experience, how big is the problem?
Aceable surveyed over 1,200 teenagers taking Aceable’s drivers ed course, asking students which type of distraction their parents or guardian engaged in most often while driving. The same question was asked about their friends. Unsurprisingly, distracted driving is still a common occurrence. But it’s not just teens who are to blame.
According to Aceable students, at least three quarters of drivers they have ridden in cars with are guilty of distracted driving. Less than 25 percent of responders said their parents or guardians “never drive distracted” while more than 28 percent said their friends “never drive distracted.”
Teenagers did a better job of focusing on the road by about 3 percent, but it seems the problem of distracted driving is widespread and affects a wide range of ages.
Mobile Phones are the Biggest Distraction for Both Teens and Parents
Texting took the top spot when Aceable asked teens what their friends are most distracted by while driving. Talking on the phone was the most-reported distraction for parents. When reports of texting and phone calls are combined into the single category of “phone use,” about 62 percent of Aceable teens said phone use is the main source of distraction for parents and 58 percent said the same of their peers. There is a huge gap between phone-based distraction and other driving distractions, with eating coming in at a distant second place at 8 percent for parents and 9.5 percent for teens. “Grooming/applying makeup” came in last place, reported as the most common distraction at a rate of less than 3 percent for each age group.
“Aceable’s findings are, unfortunately, not surprising,” says Russell Henk, director of TTI’s Youth Transportation Safety Program. “In fact, in 2014, TDS produced a video titled Parent Drivers: A Model for Life aimed at reminding parents that they’re role models for their children, especially when they’re behind the wheel. If parents more often practiced what they preached, young drivers might not be as prone to pick up bad driving habits in the first place.”
The survey results suggest that teens and their parents use phones while driving at a fairly equal rate. However, they’re using their phones for their generation’s preferred mode of communication: for parents, it’s phone calls, and for teens, it’s texting. This is particularly concerning because texting, by nature, is shown to be more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving.
Using a phone while driving appears to be a learned behavior that parents pass on to their children.
Differences Between States and Cities
Aceable students across the country told a similar story about distracted driving, but there were a few differences found in the data. Across the board, parents engage in phone calls behind the wheel more often than teens. However, the divide was greatest in California, where the parents were the more distracted by phone calls than any other group studied, yet California teens were the subset of drivers least distracted by calls.
Also noteworthy, parents in Austin, Texas were the least distracted in the study, reported to “never drive distracted” at a rate of 41 percent. The most distracted parents appear to be in Houston, Texas where only 23 percent were said to “never drive distracted.” Using a handheld electronic device while driving is illegal in Austin, but legal in Houston.
Aceable is a mobile-first drivers ed and defensive driving provider with courses in California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Texas. Aceable plans on launching a Georgia teen drivers ed course in the near future.