Plenty of dads connected with a car ad that first aired on TV two years ago.
In that 30-second Subaru spot, a father leans in the passenger window of the car, parked in the family’s driveway, and methodically gives his daughter safety reminders just before her first solo drive. He finally hands the keys to his 16-year-old, but in the commercial’s early moments, the girl strapping on her seatbelt as he delivers his pointers looks 6 years old again, in his eyes.
“So, you can see good? Got the mirrors all adjusted, and you can see everything OK? Just stay off the freeways; I don’t want you going out on those yet. Just leave your phone in your purse. I don’t want you texting.” She gets the keys, thanks him, and starts backing out of the driveway. The dad adds, “Call me, but not while you’re driving.”
There’s a better chance the teen will follow those instructions if she’s seen her parents observe those same driving standards.
The youngest drivers often mimic the bad habits of their parents, such as disregarding speed limits, going too fast for the weather conditions, rolling through stop signs, and not wearing seatbelts. Last week, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety issued a report about the upcoming summer driving season. The auto club labeled the Memorial-Day-to-Labor-Day period as “The 100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers. That heads-up refers to various studies showing that youngsters often emulate the routines, positive or negative, their parents practice while behind the wheel.
Anyone who chokes up when watching that Subaru ad understands why both generations of drivers need to be smart this summer.
For example, in a separate nationwide survey of 1,200 teenagers conducted for AT&T, 41 percent said their parents text while driving. Fifty-three percent said their parents text while stopped at a traffic light. And, 77 percent said they agreed with the statement, “Adults say that kids should not text or email while driving but they do it themselves, all the time.”
They do what they see. Parents, and adults in general, need to remember their influence.
“It’s become a part of their culture, and adults are doing it, too,” said Stan Henderson, a longtime advocate of stronger teen driving laws and a retired Indiana State University associate professor of health and safety.
It is indeed cultural. According to AT&T’s teen driver survey, 90 percent of teens expect a reply to a text within five minutes. They should resist that urge. Drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash than those who don’t, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute concluded.
Henderson is an expert on safe driving. In addition to his long tenure at ISU, he helped the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration develop national standards for teen driving. In July, he’ll become president of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association. The teen driving laws in Indiana, toughened in 2009 and 2010 by the Legislature, are adequate, in his opinion. Enforcement is the key.
“We need to stop and get serious about implementing what we have, and get the culture, and the parents, and the kids on the same page — that it’s cool to be safe,” Henderson said.
The “graduated driver licensing” laws work by safely giving teens more road experience before they get full driving privileges. In 2009, Indiana enacted a curfew on night-time driving, and restrictions on passengers and cellphone use for teens, as well as requiring them to get 50 hours of practice time with an adult. In 2010, the state upped the minimum ages for driver licensing.
As a result, the number of serious accidents among teens dropped by about 40 percent in one year, said Sherry Deane, public affairs specialist for AAA in Indianapolis.
The laws mean nothing, though, unless parents honor them. “The parents are really the number 1 enforcer of our teen driving laws,” Deane said. Police can’t monitor who heads out the door of a house with the car keys.
The passenger restriction offers an ideal example. For the first six months with an intermediate license, a teen driver cannot transport any passengers, except an adult 25 years or older riding in the front seat. As Deane tells teens, the law is to protect, not punish, them. The risk of a serious crash doubles with one passenger, triples with two, multiplies five-fold with more. Knowing those statistics, parents should be careful not to let a freshly licensed teen to go “out driving for no real purpose,” Deane said. They need to be headed to an appointed place, at an appointed time. “It’s that out-cruising-around-with-no-real-direction,” she added.
Ideally, the kids should take those drives with a mom, dad or adult family member. Deane said AAA recommends parents supervise their kids through 100 hours of practice time behind the wheel — twice the state requirement. And, when the roles are reversed and the parent drives while the teen rides along, that mother or father should follow their own rules.
Most likely, the teen will mirror those habits, like it or not.
“It’s going to be one of those things where they do as they see, not as you say,” Deane said.
Remember, those teen drivers began taking mental notes years earlier … at about the age of that 6-year-old girl in the Subaru commercial.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.