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Ford survey finds teens observe parents driving badly

Consumer Reports News: April 28, 2011 03:28 PM

As parents, we all believe we are safe drivers and are modeling good behavior to our children. But a new study finds that 82 percent of teens report seeing their parents drive carelessly on the road.

The national survey commissioned by Ford finds that even though nearly all parents (95 percent) say they are good drivers, more than half say their teen or ‘tween (9-12 years old) children have asked them to slow down, stop driving distracted, or practice other safe behaviors behind the wheel.

More than three quarters of ‘tweens and 66 percent of teens say they are heavily influenced by their parents driving behavior; 80 percent see their parents engage in risky driving as they are looking to them as role models.

This gap in parent vs. teen perception allows teens to pick up bad driving habits, because that is what they observe. As parents, it’s important to be aware of how you drive and what potentially bad habits you may be doing while your teens are watching.

Many teens learn how to drive from their parents, but driver training is a good way to teach young people the skills they need to be a safe driver for life. The survey found that 82 percent of parents were interested in having their teen attend a safe driving program, but less than 20 percent do so even though more and more schools are cutting their driver education program.

At an event hosted by Ford this week in New York City, the automaker demonstrated some of the maneuvers used in their Driving Skills for Life teen driving program. It proved to be a real eye-opener for parents who think they are good drivers.

In one scenario, participants were asked to drive though a turn at 15 miles per hour (with stability control turned off and the elevated tire pressure) demonstrating how to control the vehicle in a skid. Many of the participants couldn’t control the car and didn’t know which way to turn the wheel. (If you are turning left and skid, you turn the wheel right to bring the car back under control.) Others were using hard braking, which can magnify the problem if the wheels have not been turned back to the direction of the skid, thereby allowing the car to slow in a straight line. One woman drove this challenge with her hand palm-up under the steering wheel to turn. The instructor explained that grip position could break your wrist should the air bag go off. A second track was set up to simulate distracted driving. First we drove through various turns in a cone-lined course without the cell phone. Then we tried the course while texting. It was very clear by the amount of cones we went over that it’s nearly impossible to drive and text at the same time. I could barely type a word without going over a cone.

This experience showed that even with years of driving experience, we adults still have behaviors that need correcting. Plus, it became clear that many adults aren’t comfortable controlling a vehicle in a dangerous situation. It also shows the importance of driver education. The free Ford teen driving program has expanded to 40 markets around the country. Many other automakers and other organizations also offer safe-driving schools, as well. (See our list of driving schools in your area). This Saturday, Consumer Reports is hosting our first teen driving school at our Connecticut test track to teach teens how to control a vehicle in a variety of situations. (Look for future blogs on the event in the days ahead.)

Did you know that car crashes are the number-one killer of teens? Certainly seems prudent that driver education should be an important step in helping to reduce those deaths. If you have a teen driver, consider enrolling your child in a program. Some of the programs are free (like the Ford program), but whatever the cost, it’s worth spending the money to keep your teen safe on the road.

For more on teen driving, see our guide to distracted driving and teen safety.

Liza Barth

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