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Friday
Nov302012

Do As I Say Not As I Do Doesn’t Cut It

By Christopher A. Sawyer

Toyota and the University of Michigan Transportation Institute (UMTRI) conducted a joint study of teen drivers (ages 16-18), and parents of teen drivers, that showed a strong correlation between parent and teen behaviors behind the wheel. No surprise there; parents are the most influential role models for many behaviors. More worrying is that this national telephone survey of more than 5,500 teen drivers and parents, which included 400 interviews with teens and parents from the same household, found that texting while driving is still commonplace among teens.

Key Study Findings

The sample of teens and parents from the same households showed a strong correlation between driving behaviors and attitudes within families. In general, parents who engage in distracting behaviors more frequently have teens who engage in distracting behaviors more frequently. Other findings from the dyad sample include:

  • What Teens Think Their Parents Do Behind the Wheel Matters More Than What Parents Say They Do: What teens think their parents do while driving has a greater impact on the teens' behavior than what parents actually report they do.
    • If a teen thinks that his or her parent looks for something in the vehicle while driving, the teen is four times (4.1) more likely to also look for something while driving (as compared to if the teen does not think their parent does this at all).
      • If a teen's parent reports looking for something in the vehicle while driving, the teen is two times (2.2) more likely to do the same (as compared to if the parent does not report this behavior at all).
    • If a teen thinks that his or her parent eats or drinks while driving, the teen is three times (3.4) more likely to likely to do the same (as compared to if the teen does not think their parent does this at all).
      • If a teen's parent reports eating or drinking while driving, the teen is two times (2.2) more likely to do the same (as compared to if the parent does not report this behavior at all).
    • If a teen thinks that his or her parent deals with passenger issues while driving (interacts with passengers regarding requests, concerns and conflicts), the teen is five times (4.7) more likely to do so themselves (as compared to if the teen does not think their parent does this at all).
      • If a teen's parent reports dealing with passenger issues while driving, the teen is two times (1.7) more likely to do the same (as compared to if the parent does not report this behavior at all).
  • Teens Think Their Parents Engage in Driving Distractions More Often Than May Be the Case : A third of teens (32 percent) believe that their parents use an electronic device for music while driving, while only one in ten parents (10 percent) report that they do so. Seventy-one percent of teens believe that their parents read or write down directions while driving, while 55 percent of parents say they do so. Eighty-five percent of teens believe that their parents deal with passenger issues while 70 percent of parents say they do so.
  • Parents May Underestimate How Much Their Teens Text While Driving: Teens read or send text messages once a trip 26 times more often than their parents think they do. More than a quarter of teens (26 percent) read or send a text message at least once every time they drive versus the one percent of their parents who said their teen does this.

Other Study Findings

  • Cell Phone Use by Teen Drivers Is Similar to Their Parents: More than half of teens (54 percent) report that they use a hand-held cell phone while driving, similar to the six in ten parents (61 percent) who report that they do so.
  • Texting While Driving Still Pervasive: A quarter of teens (24 percent) respond to a text message once or more every time they drive. Nearly one in three teens (30 percent) read a text or email once or more every time they drive. Almost one in ten parents (nine percent) respond to a text once or more every time they drive, while 13 percent of them read a text or email once or more while driving. Perhaps even more alarming, one in five teens (20 percent) and one in ten parents (10 percent) admit that they have extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
  • Digital and Social Media Are Significant Driving Distractions for Teens:  Teens search for music on a portable music player, such as an iPod, four-and-a-half times more frequently than parents do while driving. More than half of teens (53 percent) say they do so, while just 12 percent of parents do. More than one in ten teens, or 11 percent, say that they update or check social media, such as Facebook or Twitter, while driving.
  • Teens Regularly Drive with Young Passengers Despite Serious Risks: Nearly three-quarters of teens (69 percent) say they drive with two or three teen passengers and no adults in their car, which, according to a study by the AAA Foundation, is associated with a doubling of the driver's risk of being killed in a crash. Almost half of teens (44 percent) do so with more than three teen passengers and no adults, which is associated with a quadrupling of a driver's risk of being killed. Additionally, half of teens (50 percent) say that they deal with passengers while driving. Nearly one in three teens (30 percent) say they do this at least once a trip or more.

Despite claims by automakers and suppliers that ever more complex infotainment systems are desired by consumers, there is a very real need for simple, easy to use components that disable hand-held devices, and allow interaction only through an in-vehicle interface. Furthermore, this system must have the capability to postpone or disallow those tasks which draw too much attention from the act of driving, no matter the age or experience of the driver. Especially when as any service manager at a car dealer will tell you, most buyers do not know how to use the in-vehicle electronics, and use less than one-third of its capability. Nevertheless, these same customers still want the systems to do more.

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