Driving instructors say modern parents fall behind in preparing teen children for driving

Nearly two-thirds of driving instructors recently surveyed by AAA said parents are worse at preparing their teenage children for driving than they were 10 years ago. The organization said the survey results highlight the importance of parental involvement in educating teens on safe driving.

In August, AAA issued a nine-question survey to driving instructors with both multiple choice and essay questions. They received responses from 142 instructors in 26 states and one Canadian province.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said parents are worse at helping their teenage children learn to drive than they were a decade ago. Of these instructors, 31 percent said parents do not invest enough time in this education, 14 percent said they do not practice enough with their teen, and 8 percent said they are more likely to set bad examples with their own driving.

AAA noted that a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety confirmed that drivers between the ages of 35 and 55 commonly admitted to dangerous behavior while driving. Seventy-seven percent said they talk on a cell phone while driving, while 46 percent reported that they drive at least 15 miles per hour over the speed limit on the freeway.

"Parents play a major role in keeping our roads safe," said Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations at AAA. "Most teens are learning important driving skills from watching their parents and they are picking up bad behaviors along with the good ones. So it's up to today's parents to set a good example. It may end up saving their children's lives."

Among the 35 percent of driving instructors who said parents are better at preparing their children for driving now than they were 10 years ago, 18 percent believed they were more involved. Eight percent said there are better parental resources, while 3 percent cited improved state requirements.

Respondents were split on whether they thought teen drivers were better or worse than a decade ago. Fifty-five percent thought they were worse, while 45 percent thought they were better.

Of the instructors who thought teen drivers have gotten worse in the past decade, the vast majority—35 percent—blamed the increase in possible distractions. Nine percent cited a lower desire for licensure, 7 percent a lack of practice, and 5 percent insufficient parental involvement.

Seventeen percent of those who thought teen drivers have improved said they thought instruction has gotten better. Eight percent thought teen drivers are getting more practice or training, 6 percent credited stronger graduated driver licensing requirements, and 4 percent cited advances in vehicles.

Asked about the most common mistakes teens make while learning to drive, 14 percent named inadequate visual scanning. These errors included tunnel vision, failure to anticipate risks, and not looking far enough up the road for possible hazards.

Eleven percent said teens often have inadequate speed control, such as exceeding the speed limit, failing to maintain speed, and driving too fast for conditions. Ten percent of driving instructors cited distraction, including talking on a cell phone, multitasking while driving, not paying attention to stop signs, looking at the speedometer for too long, and generally being unfocused.

"Nearly two-thirds of people injured or killed in a crash involving a teen driver are people other than the teen," said Bill Van Tassel, manager of driver training operations at AAA. "Involved parents really can help save lives, so it's important for parents to coach their teens to slow down, as well as to avoid other common mistakes."

"We all know that the combination of inexperience and risk taking can be a deadly one," said Ryan. "Parents need to understand the common mistakes teens are making and take the time to help their teens learn how to stay safer on the road when they are learning to drive."

AAA recommended that parents should start educating their children early with conversations about the dangers of speeding and distracted driving. The organization also said parents should take the time to practice driving with teenage children in varying conditions, establish a parent-teen driving agreement to set the rules for driving behavior and the consequences of violating them, and creating a good example with their own driving.

Instructors were most likely to advise teen drivers to practice driving when first learning the skill, with 29 percent offering this advice. Nineteen percent said teens who are learning to drive should drive defensively, 17 percent advised them to avoid distractions, and 11 percent said they should understand that driving is a privilege and responsibility.

Asked what they would change about their state's rules for learning to drive, 44 percent said they would require more practice hours. Thirty-two percent favored driver education for all new drivers, 16 percent wanted a requirement of some form of parent class, 15 percent thought the road test should be altered or strengthened, and 13 percent supported an increase to the minimum driving age.

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