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Want Your Teen to Drive Safely? Talk the Talk

Agreeing on Driving Restrictions Can Decrease Teens' Risky Driving Habits

WebMD Health News

Oct. 25, 2005 -- It may come as no surprise that teenagers with a fresh driver's license are more likely to take risks when driving than more experienced drivers.

But a new study suggests that parents may be able to reduce those risks by talking to teens about the consequences for unsafe driving and discussing parental driving restrictions placed on them.

Researchers found that when teen drivers were in agreement with their parents about when they could drive and what the consequences would be for breaking driving rules, they were less likely to take risks while driving, like speeding or going through a yellow light.

"When there was discord between parents, the teens were more likely to be risky drivers," researcher Kenneth Beck of the University of Maryland at College Park says in a news release.

Researchers say motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among adolescents between the ages of 16 and 20; adolescent crash rates are higher than any other age group. They add that adolescent crash rates are higher when teens drive on weekends, drive with other teenage passengers, and drive at nighttime.

Parents Affect Teen Driving Habits

In the study, published in Prevention Science, researchers surveyed 579 families in a Washington, D.C. suburb with a teenager who had received a driver's license within the last 30 days. Both the parent and teenage driver were interviewed about the teen's driving habits and parental driving restrictions. The researchers wanted to measure risky teen driving by asking teens on how many of the past 30 days they had engaged in a variety of risky driving behaviors.

The results showed that risky driving habits were commonly reported among the new teen drivers, including:

  • Going through yellow lights (83%)
  • Speeding in a residential or school zone (50%)
  • Talking on a cell phone, reading, eating, or horsing around with other passengers (48%)
  • Switching lanes and weaving through slower traffic (46%)

Researchers say teenage boys were more likely than girls to be risky drivers and have greater discord over restricted driving conditions and rules.

On average teens committed almost four different risky driving behaviors within their first month of driving.

In addition, the study showed that when parents and teens agreed about driving restrictions and rules, such as not driving after midnight and wearing a seatbelt at all times, and agreed about the consequences for violating those rules -- like losing driving privileges -- the teens were less likely to take risks while driving.

The study also showed that teens who agreed with their parents that they had been talked to "many times" were less likely to be discordant that their driving privileges would be restricted than teens who disagreed with their parents.

"Both need to know and agree as to when driving privileges would be taken away or reduced," says Beck. "The best way to do that is talk about it."

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