Provides Tips for Parents on Making Their Teens Smart Drivers

Share Article presents a Q&A on teen driving and safety with Anne McCartt, Senior Vice President of Research, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

For teens, learning to drive is a right of passage. For parents, it's a mixture of pride at seeing their child reach another milestone and of worry over their safety. Automobile crashes are the leading cause of death among American teens, accounting for more than one-third of deaths among 16-to-18-year-olds. Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which developed, asked the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety about this topic. Below are some thoughts on the topic from IIHS' senior vice president of research, Anne McCartt.

Q: What has the most influence - drivers' ed, parents or teaching instructors?

A: Graduated driver licensing and parental involvement are both important factors in preventing teen crashes. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety research and a recent study from Nationwide both found that parents have a tremendous impact--for better or worse--on their children's driving habits. Nationwide found that more than 76 percent of children view their parents as driving role models. And IIHS has found that teens whose parents had violations or crashes on their records were more likely to have a violation or crash on their own records compared with teens whose parents had none.

Q: Why are teen drivers more at risk?

A: As parents, we tend to think of driving as second nature. We forget that the seemingly simple act of running to the store requires us to make multiple decisions each and every moment we're behind the wheel. Inexperience and lack of maturity impact how a teen processes and acts upon these myriad of choices. The good news is that parents can help by practicing smart driving habits themselves--the Nationwide survey found that more than 80 percent of children and young adults ages 10 to 18 pay attention to their parents' driving.

Q: What behaviors put teen drivers most at risk?

A: IIHS has found that some of the most risky behaviors exhibited by teen drivers include speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and not paying attention to the task of driving or to their surroundings. The Nationwide survey suggests that some of these behaviors are picked up from parents' driving habits. The survey found more than half of children have observed their parent multi-tasking behind the wheel, arguing with a friend or passenger, and/or arguing and yelling at other drivers. Eighty percent said they observed a parent exceeding the speed limit.

Q: Are Graduated Licensing Laws the answer to improving teen safety?

A: Graduated licensing laws are effective at reducing teen crashes, but the strength of these laws varies from state to state, and they don't replace the need for sound parenting. Stressing to your child the importance of these laws helps, but one of the most important influences parents can have is to set their own driving rules for their beginning driver regardless of how strong the law in their state is. The most effective rules for parents to enforce may be the toughest, especially for parents hoping to end their role as chauffeur. Especially during a teen's first year of driving, parents should institute restrictions to keep their teen out of the most dangerous situations. The rules should prohibit driving with other teens in the car and beginners shouldn't be allowed to drive any later than 9 or 10 p.m.

Q: What else can parents do to help increase the safety of their teen drivers?

A: There are many things parents can do to help. The Nationwide survey shows even younger children pay attention to parents' driving habits and view them as role models. Demonstrating good driving habits themselves, avoiding distracting behavior such as cell phone use and using time in the car to coach good driving habits (including acknowledging when they've made a mistake) all help give children a head start. Parental influence extends to the vehicle a teen drives as well. IIHS has also found that too many new drivers are driving cars that don't afford the best protection in crashes. Teens should not be driving small cars, because they're not as protective as bigger cars in collisions. Nor should they be driving SUVs or pickups, as these vehicles are more likely to roll over in crashes. Help teens make smart choices about the car they drive.

For more information on helping your teen become a smart driver, visit


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