Parents Can Influence Teen Drivers by Setting Limits

October 24, 2005

A new study of more than 500 teenagers found that new young drivers take risks on the road, but that parents can help reduce risky driving behavior.

In the study by University of Maryland professor Kenneth Beck, teen drivers who have had their driver’s license less than a month reported a noticeable amount of risky driving behavior. “But we found that when parents and teenagers agree on driving conditions and consequences for unsafe driving, there is less risky behavior,” says Beck, an expert in driving safety. “When there was discord between parents, the teens were more likely to be risky drivers.”

Beck says to reduce risky driving behavior, parents and teens should agree on basic driving conditions, such as driving without teen passengers, driving outside of the local area and having teens tell parents where they are going.

“Parents and teenagers also need to agree on the consequences for risky driving,” says Beck. “Both need to know and agree as to when driving privileges would be taken away or reduced. The best way to do that is talk about it.”

In asking the new teen drivers about their risky driving behavior, Beck found that boys are more likely than girls to be risky drivers. Also, mothers are better than fathers in getting teens to avoid risky driving.

The most common risky driving behaviors reported were
Going through a yellow light – 83%;
Speeding in residential or school zones – 50%;
Talking on a cell phone, reading, eating or horsing around – 48%;
Switching lanes and weaving though slower traffic – 46%.

Beck interviewed 579 families in Gaithersburg, Md.. a suburb of Washington, D.C., that had a teenager who had received a driver’s license in the previous 30 days. Most of the teens were living with biological parents, were predominantly white and had parents with full time jobs and a college education.

“While our study focused on a fairly affluent and educated segment of the Washington, D.C. area, the results are applicable for suburbs in many parts of the country,” Beck said.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and injury among teenagers between 16 and 20. Adolescents have the highest crash rate of all age groups, and their accident rates are higher when they drive on weekends, with teen passengers and at night, according to federal studies cited by Beck.

Beck’s research appears in the September issue of Prevention Science. The study was funded by the Maryland Department of Transportation and done in collaboration with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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