Califonia Bountiful

Getting teen drivers started in the right direction

Nov./Dec. 2007 California Country magazine

Teens learn the rules of the road by paying attention to their parents' driving.

Although they may seem to be otherwise occupied, pre-teens and teens are keen observers—and students—of their parents' driving habits. As found in a new study of more than 2,200 parents and children by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 82 percent of 10- to 18-year-olds pay attention to their parents' driving at least half of the time they spend in the car.

"Teens are learning the rules of the road by watching their parents," said Bill Windsor, Nationwide associate vice president of safety. "Parents play a significant role in shaping the type of driver their child will become. According to the survey, 85 percent of parents say they try to promote roadway safety by driving safely themselves."

While parents recognize they are being observed and need to lead by example, this often gets lost in practice. Two out of five parents surveyed say they curb their bad driving habits in front of their children, but many children report seeing their parents drive aggressively, feel around for items in the car, talk on cell phones or fail to wear seat belts.

The survey underscores the opportunity parents have to model smart driving habits with their children. The cost of missing this opportunity is significant—according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens. For 16- to 18-year-olds, crashes account for more than one-third of all deaths.

"Parents can help their children learn safe driving skills by putting safety into practice whenever the ignition is turned on, whether children are in the car or not," Windsor said. "And when it comes to potentially saving lives, very few conversations are more important than discussing how to be a smart driver with pre-teens and teens."

Key findings from the study:

  • While nearly half of parents report that they typically drive at or below the speed limit, 80 percent of children observe that their parents drive over the speed limit.
  • More than half of children have observed their parent multi-tasking behind the wheel, arguing with a passenger and/or arguing and yelling at other drivers.
  • Nearly three in 10 children surveyed have been scared by a parent's driving.
  • Twenty-seven percent of teens with their driver's license have never had formal instruction and have learned from watching their parents and other people drive.
  • Teen drivers are 66 percent more likely to obey speed limits and 51 percent more likely to keep both hands on the steering wheel than their parents.

Parental influence on the driving habits of their children is confirmed by research from the IIHS.

"We have found that parents with traffic violations or who've been in crashes are more likely to have teen drivers with violations or crashes," said Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS. "Our research and Nationwide's survey should send a clear message that when it comes to learning good driving habits, parents matter." For more information about teen driving and how parents and children can communicate about driving smarter, visit

John Valentine is director of sponsor relations for Nationwide Insurance. He can be reached at 800-552-2437 ext. 4393 or

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