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Texting and Driving: Are Teens learning Distracted Driving Habits from their Parents?

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. Here are the top 9 best practices to avoid distracted driving.

Texting and Driving: Are Teens learning Distracted Driving Habits from their parents?

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 ages 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 Distracted Driving is Worse Than Teen Distracted Driving


Distracted driving isn't just expensive if you get caught. It's 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 driver's 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 parents, 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 more of the time, but it seems the problem of distracted driving is widespread and affects a wide range of ages.

Texting and Driving is One of the Biggest Distractions for 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 most 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 online drivers ed and defensive driving provider with courses in California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

9 Teen Driving Habits That Prevent Distracted Driving (and Parents Can Use Too)

We all know that distracted driving is dangerous. Distractions can be big or small, mental or physical. But how do you avoid the temptation to multitask when you should be focused on driving only?

Here are our top 9 tips for avoiding distracted driving.

1. Make Adjustments Before Moving

All those little things you do to make a drive more comfortable (adjusting the A/C, scanning through radio stations, moving the sun visors, etc.) should be done before the vehicle is in motion. If you forgot to adjust everything before leaving instead of doing these non-critical tasks while driving, take care of them when you’re safely stopped.

2. Never Drive With a Laptop or Tablet in Your Lap

If mobile phones are dangerous behind the wheel, then holding up a tablet is ridiculous to try. And even holding a closed laptop in your lap isn’t safe. If it fell to the floor it could block the pedals. Laptops and tablets should be safely stored in their cases during the drive.

3. Keep Pets in Carriers

Pets should never roam freely in the car. The last thing you need is an extra four paws stepping around the brake and accelerator pedals. Not to mention free-roaming pets are a major distraction.

We understand that shoving an unwilling cat or dog into a crate is about as easy as getting toothpaste back into the tube, but it must be done. It’s the safest option for you and your pet.

4. Keep Car Rides Low Key

Unless you’re a passenger on a party bus, wait until you get to your destination before getting amped up. Dancing, loud music, and conversations with friends are some of the best things life has to offer. Just not when you need to be concentrating on driving. Laughing and talking to peers while driving is so dangerous for young drivers many states prohibit teens from driving around with other teens in the vehicle unless they are immediate relatives.

5. No Mapping While Driving

Punching in addresses and looking at maps is the same as reading and writing while operating a moving vehicle. Setting up GPS and maps is something that should be done before you’re on route to the destination. Take a good look at the map to get your bearings, and set up the audio prompts if there are a lot of directions. Pullover and stop the car if you truly need to read the map again. If there’s a passenger see if they can be your navigator so you don’t have to bother with it at all.

6. Get Ready at Home

Makeup is hard enough to do when you’re standing still. And pulling a shirt over your head is definitely going to obstruct your view of the road. Don’t count on your commute as extra time to get ready unless you are a passenger. It’s better to show up safely looking a little disheveled than to not make it at all.

7. No Rubbernecking

Rubbernecking is one of the oldest forms of distracted driving. This is when you pay attention to something on the side of the road instead of the road ahead. If there’s a crash scene or broken-down vehicle on the side of the road there are sure to be drivers who slow down and stare at it. Rubbernecking is not only dangerous, but it also causes traffic slowdowns. Resist the urge to peer at the wreckage or you could be the next one stranded on the side of the road waiting for a tow.

8. Don’t Eat and Drive

Quick question. If your hands are holding the steering wheel how can you eat? Oh, that’s right. You have to take your hands off the wheel, which makes eating a dangerous distraction. In some states, you can actually get a ticket for trying to eat and drive.

9. Don’t Use Your Phone While Driving - Ever

What’s the one activity more distracting than trying to eat string cheese while driving? Using your phone. Texting, taking a call or whatever else you like to compulsively check on your phone is a major moving violation in many states. All of these activities can take your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road and mind off the task of driving. That’s a triple threat in the worst way.

Keep your phone on silent and out of your reach while driving.