Who’s the better driver, high school seniors or sophomores? Recent study results may surprise you.
By Mike Sample, MS, CSP, lead driving safety expert & technical consultant at Liberty Mutual
For many teens, the first step towards adulthood is getting a driver’s license after years of anticipation. With this newfound freedom behind the wheel, both teens and parents alike need to be conscious of the dangers and responsibilities of driving. While teens often log 40 hours or more behind the wheel in order to get their license, it is important to continue the driving lessons once teens exit the DPS with their license in hand. In fact, a new study conducted by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) recently found that older teen drivers are overconfident in their driving abilities and are more likely to engage in reckless and distracted driving.
While it’s natural for teens to gain confidence behind the wheel as they get older and log more driving hours, the study found that over half of older teens experience more accidents and near misses than their younger peers who have just started driving. Why the increase in accidents? The data reveals that older teens are participating in more distracting and dangerous behaviors while driving such as texting, using music apps or talking with passengers. It turns out that older teen drivers (71 percent of seniors) are more likely to use a phone than younger teen drivers while at red lights and stop signs, as well as in stop and go traffic.
With more experience than their younger counterparts, why are older teens engaging in such risky behavior behind the wheel? In a surprising twist, parents may be unknowingly opening the door to this behavior as consequences taper off for older drivers. Nearly 70 percent of teens ages 15 and 16 say they would lose their driving privileges if they were to get into an accident whereas only 55 percent of teens 18 and older believe they would experience the same consequence.
It’s important to engage teens in a dialogue about safe driving practices and use near misses or accidents as learning opportunities to help shape safe driving habits and change dangerous behaviors. One of the smartest things that teens can do to become safer drivers is to put the phone down and out of sight. Placing your phone in the backseat or glove box where it can’t be reached ensures that you stay focused on the road. After all, texting, using social media, and changing music on your phone are all leading causes of accidents and close calls.
Parents too, are key influencers when it comes to teens’ behaviors behind the wheel – both their current habits and ones they may pick up as they gain experience and confidence. In fact, four out of five parents admit to phone use while driving. It’s key not to critique just your teens’ driving behaviors, but use observations about both your and your teen’s habits behind the wheel as learning experiences. Families can use the Liberty Mutual and SADD Teen Driving Contract as a conversation starter and discussion guide. The contract outlines important safety issues and can offer an easy way for all members of the family to agree on predetermined rules.
Don’t forget that older teens are still inexperienced drivers and need to practice, even if they have been driving on their own for one or two years. Nearly 40 percent of teens say their parents stop practicing driving with them after they get their license. Parents should continue to drive with their teens and remind them of safe driving behaviors with frequent check-ins and conversations. With many more years of experience on the road, parents often times have numerous tips to share that can prove valuable later on.
Another helpful tool available is the Liberty Mutual HighwayHero app. Mom, dad and teen can all be held accountable and parents can set a good example with this helpful monitoring technology. The app tracks and scores driving behavior based on factors including phone usage while driving, acceleration, hard braking and speeding.
A clever tip for parents is to offer a reward to their teens for their safe driving, rather than focusing on the consequences of bad driving behavior. Offering a reward, such as a break from a specific house chore or a $10 gift card to their favorite store, is a great way to remind them to think about their actions. While it is still necessary for teens to know the consequences of bad driving, it can be a welcomed change to know what driving habits they are performing well.
Being the parent of a teen driver can be stressful, but it is also a tremendous opportunity to promote safe driving habits with teens, and establish ground rules and expectations for the road ahead. By keeping an open conversation and always encouraging safe and mindful driving habits, parents can help prevent their teen from endangering themselves and other drivers on the road.
Mike Sample, MS, CSP, is a lead driving safety expert and technical consultant at Liberty Mutual.