Lead by example: A parent’s guide to modeling good driving behavior
[This article is being published in support of National Teen Driver Safety Week. If you have any comments or have a story to share about this topic, please send them to
Do you know how long you have been teaching your child about driving?
From the moment your child began to observe the world around them from the backseat of your vehicle, they were subconsciously learning from your behavior.
And, with research finding that teens often replicate their parents’ driving behaviors , it’s important to be the best role model you can be.
Here are five best practices to help you model the right driving behavior to your teen.
1. Start outside the vehicle
Safe driving goes beyond the skills required behind the wheel — and includes everything from maintaining your vehicle to ensuring you are fit to drive. For example:
- Fitness to drive. Avoid driving while tired or when particularly emotional or stressed.
- Vehicle checks. Involve your child in this process from a young age to emphasize the importance of having a safe, well-maintained vehicle.
- Planning ahead. Plan your route, avoid rush hours and check the weather forecast — put off journeys if conditions are bad.
2. Set up a routine
Establish a regular routine — buckle up, adjust mirrors and set up GPS before hitting the road. Position your device so you don’t have to touch it while driving.
Show your teen how to avoid cell phone distraction by putting your phone on silent, in the glovebox. Never check it while you are driving, even in a jam or at traffic lights. Research carried out by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that distracted driving was a much bigger problem for teens than previously thought , with distraction a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.
Teens are known to have a “Fear of Missing Out” so could be tempted to sneak a glance at their phone if it pings while driving. Making phones silent and out of sight removes this temptation.
While cell phones are amongst the biggest distractions (and laws related to their use vary greatly), they are not the only distraction for drivers.
In reality, there’s a wide range of far-too-common non-driving activities that can increase your chance of crashing. Even if it’s not against the law, set a good example to your teen by avoiding anything that could be distracting. Such as:
- Actively using the GPS/mapping software
- Meddling with the radio / playlist / Podcast app
- Eating or drinking
- Reaching for objects in the car
- Grooming — shaving, brushing hair, applying make-up
- Horsing around with passengers
- Watching TV — even if glancing across at something a passenger is viewing
- Reading — yes, people have been caught doing this while driving
4. Have the right attitude
Being a good role model also involves demonstrating how to deal with unexpected situations. For example, what you would do if another driver almost caused a collision with your vehicle? Would you lose your patience and shout? Instead, show your teen how to handle the situation correctly. Take a deep breath, stay calm and let it pass.
If your child is currently going through the process of learning to drive, they will have probably started to take more notice of how you act behind the wheel. Do you obey the speed limit? Do you keep a safe following distance?
In a recent interview , Robert Foss, senior research scientist at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, said: “We don’t so much learn ‘how’ to do things by observing, but we very much learn ‘what is appropriate to do’ by observing. So teens won’t learn how to be skilled in reading a roadway environment by observing, but they may learn that ignoring speed limits, or traffic controls is ‘the way we drive’ from observing what parents do.”
5. Take a hard stance
It is important that your teenager knows there must never be any exceptions or excuses. Distracted driving must not happen, ever.
Talk to your teen about the reasons for avoiding distractions. There are plenty of facts around that convey just how huge the problem is. Here are a few you might like to share with your teen:
- Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. If traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded ( 2009, VTTI )
- The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found distraction to be a factor in 58 percent of teen driver crashes
- Cognitive (mental) distractions can continue for up to 27 seconds after the activity has ended, according to a 2016 study. So, if your teen texts while stopped a traffic lights, they may still be distracted once the light turns green, even if they have put their phone down
Discuss the penalties for distracted driving, as well as what punishments you will enforce or privileges you will take away if you discover they have been driving distracted.
Also, make your teen accountable for their own actions. One way to do this is to encourage them to sign a safe driving pledge. Of course, to set a good example, you should sign the pledge too. This will help commit you to the project of modeling good driving behavior.
eDriving CEO Celia Stokes said: “It is important for parents to recognize that teaching safe driving starts at home. Of course, driving is a skill that develops with experience, but there is no better place to begin than with the parent being the best role model possible. It’s really quite simple; if you show your children that you drive smart and that you are committed to distraction-free driving, they will learn from your example.”
We are running a Teen Driver Safety Week contest!
We are inviting teens to turn the tables and help make their parents aware of distracted behaviors while they drive. Our #viewfromthebackseat contest is designed to empower teens to be part of the distracted driving solution. So, let your teen know about the contest and leave the rest to them … and remember to be on your best driving behaviour.
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