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Many parents allow risky driving habits among local teen drivers, new poll shows

According to their parents, many local teen drivers are starting out with some bad – even deadly – habits, according to a scientific poll prepared for Drive Alive campaign by Highview Help Public Relations and Indiana Research Service. 

Some good news: 

The majority of parents recognize their influence over their teens’ driving. Three-fourths of parents say that they have more influence over their teens’ driving than police, driver education programs, schools, etc.

The bad: 

Apparently many parents are not using their influence to give their teen drivers every safety advantage. For example, few teen drivers have been given any formal guidance on driving since getting their licenses. Half of the parents surveyed say their child drives at least once or twice a week while talking on a cell phone – a habit that can be as dangerous as driving drunk. And most parents are allowing their children to drive at night or with passengers right after getting their license – factors that greatly increase the risk for a deadly crash. Eight out of 10 households have no formal restrictions on their teens’ driving.

So while parents recognize that they can wield the most influence over their teens’ driving, many parents are not making full use of that influence to keep their children safer.

However, the survey shows this good news: 57 percent of parents surveyed say they had talked with their child about safe driving in the past week. This is crucial, because national data shows that teens who talk with their parents about safe driving are less likely to die in a crash.

The bad news: 43 percent of parents had not talked with their teen in the week prior to the survey. A primary goal of Drive Alive is to reduce this at-risk group by encouraging the “5-Alive” message: Talk with your teens for 5 minutes a week about specific safe driving topics like speeding, drunk driving, seatbelt use and avoidance of cell phones. “The goal is to encourage parents to adopt voluntary restrictions on the most predictably dangerous driving practices, like speeding, seatbelt use, nighttime driving, driving with teen passengers and driving while using a cell phone,” said Jon Brandenberger, MD, of Drive Alive's Board of Directors.

More highlights from the Drive Alive poll:

  • Using a cell phone impairs a driver as much as driving drunk, according to a study appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers found cell phone users four to five times more likely to get into traffic accidents than those who do not use them. Locally, 1 in 4 Allen County parents surveyed say their teen uses a cell phone each and every day while driving. An additional 28 percent of parents say their teen talks on a cell phone while driving at least once or twice a week. This means in a given week, more than half of Allen County’s teen drivers are driving in a condition that puts them at equal risk with drunk driving.
  • 3 out of 4 parents polled believe they have the most influence on their teens’ driving behavior. The parents surveyed also believe they are the best at reinforcing their teen’s driving habits. They’re right, according to national surveys of teens that show parents as being the No. 1 driving influence on teen drivers.
  • According to the parents surveyed, nearly 1 in 4 local Allen County teen drivers has not had a formal driver’s education course, which is not mandatory in Indiana.
  • Only 1 in 4 Allen County teen drivers has received any formal guidance on safe driving practices since receiving his or her license, according to the parents surveyed.
  • 8 out of 10 local households don’t have written restrictions on their teen’s driving.
  • Almost 1 in 4 parents surveyed rarely or never talks with his child about the teen’s driving experiences on the road.
  • Night driving is a high-risk activity for beginners. Per mile driven, the nighttime fatal crash rate for 16 year-olds is about twice as high as during the day. Two out of every three teen passenger deaths occur in crashes with a teen driver. While night driving with passengers is particularly lethal, many fatal crashes with teen passengers occur during the day, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute.
  • The poll indicates that during the first year of driving, 78 percent of Allen County teens drove with passengers or after dark weekly or even daily.

Methodology: A total of 466 interviews were completed, yielding a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.5%.