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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, 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

TDS-distracted-driving_infographic Click to see full size

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 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.

Ten Ways to Prevent Distracted Driving

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 do other stuff when you should be focusing on driving? Here are Aceable’s favorite tips for avoiding distracted driving.

10. Wait for a red light.

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.) can wait until you reach a red light. Instead of doing these non-critical tasks while driving, take care of them when you’re at a complete stop.

9. No laptops or tablets allowed.

If you have ever tried to use a laptop while driving, you are actually insane. If mobile phones are dangerous behind the wheel, then holding up a tablet or computer is even worse. Leave ‘em at home or safely stored in their cases.

8. Keep pets in carriers.

So the love of your life, Nacho, needs to go to the vet. Don’t just let him roam freely in the car! The last thing you need is an extra four paws stepping around the brake and accelerator pedals. We understand that shoving an unwilling cat into a crate is about as easy as getting toothpaste back into the tube, but it must be done.

7. No minivan parties.

Unless you’re a passenger on a party bus, wait until you get to your destination before you bring the ruckus. Dancing, loud music, and generalized whiling are some of the best things life has to offer. Just don’t do it when you need to be concentrating on driving (or your friend is).

6. No reading.

Again, are you kidding? Do you get your multitasking advice from Laptop Driver (above)? DO NOT read while you’re in control of a moving motor vehicle. That means no books, junk mail, party invitations, or maps. Pull over and stop the car if you truly need to read something.

5. Get ready at home.

Makeup is hard. Seriously, getting perfectly symmetrical cat eyes is difficult enough without having to worry about, you know, dying in a traffic collision. Don’t count on your commute as extra time to fix your hair or apply cosmetics. It’s better to show up safely with #nomakeup.

4. No rubbernecking.

Don’t be nosy. If there’s a crash scene or broken-down vehicle on the side of the road, don’t slow down and stare at it.

3. Pick your music first.

Whether you prefer club bangers or podcasts, get that stuff set up before the wheels start rolling. Switching playlists on your phone or looking for a mix tape (Ooooh, old school) is an unnecessary distraction for drivers.

2. Don’t eat and drive.

Even the most expertly rolled breakfast burrito is gonna be a messy problem if you’re clutching it in one hand and blindly biting at it while you try to keep your eyes on the semi-truck merging in front of you. Eat before or after your drive, not during it.

1. Don’t use your phone!

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: all 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 (not in the Hollywood sense of the word). Keep your phone on silent and out of your reach.

Never use your phone while driving Sorry dog, I missed your call earlier.