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3 Ways Parents Undermine Teen Driving Safety With Bad Driving Habits

There we sat at a red light. My friend, who was driving, was furtively texting while her kids were playing Trivia Crack in the back seat. She’d never text while the car was moving, of course. But as she focused on her message, her foot slipped off the pedal and she rolled right into the car in front of her.

It was an expensive lesson, to be sure, but at least only in dollars rather than lives.

Though she may not have realized it, there was some other fallout from my friend’s behavior behind the wheel that day. She was sending the message to her children that texting behind the wheel is acceptable.

Those quick texts at red lights are just one of the ways that we sabotage our teens when they are learning how to drive.

3 Bad Habits that Undermine Teen Driving Safety:

1. Texting or calling your teen while she’s driving

“Where are you? You’re late!” A study from the American Psychological Association found that parents might actually be partly responsible for distracted driving: up to half of teens are on calls with mom or dad when they talk on a cellphone while driving. Researchers noted that parents expect their teens to answer their phone calls, and that teens fear their parents will get angry when they don’t.

2. Punishing your teen for missing curfew

This is a tough one because your teen should just leave earlier, of course. But you also don’t want your teen to speed or make a poor driving decision in a rush to get home before the clock hits 11:00 p.m. Parents should ask teens to call or text before getting behind the wheel, if they’re cutting it close.

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3. Modeling poor driving behavior (like texting at red lights)

According to Brad Hilliard, public affairs specialist for the State Farm Teen Driver Safety Network, parents are the most important role model and driving mentor for teens. “We try to encourage parents to stick to that tough rule of practice what you preach,” he says. “And that happens long before teens get a license. They are going to imitate the behaviors that we show.”

I polled a group of parents of teens, and they admitted a “dirty laundry list” of driving infractions:

  • Not enforcing seat belts
  • Road rage (including unnecessary honking)
  • Putting on makeup
  • Zipping boots
  • One hand on the wheel
  • Retrieving something from the back seat or the floor
  • Speeding up to a yellow light
  • Listening to loud music
  • Tailgating
  • Changing radio stations
  • No signal when turning
  • Eating a bowl of cereal.

Looking for more articles on driving? Try this one:

Do you recognize any of these behaviors in yourself? If so, it may be time to reassess how you behave when you drive. Parents play a huge role in teaching safe driving habits. Because “do as I say, not as I do,” just won’t cut it with your teen driver.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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