A recent survey conducted by State Farm finds a huge disconnect between what parents think their teen is doing on the road and the behaviors that the teens themselves report.
The survey focused on the key provisions of graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws that introduce driving privileges in stages with the goal of keeping inexperienced teen drivers out of dangerous situations. Currently, all 50 states have some form of GDL on the books.
Typical GDL laws limit the number of teen passengers a rookie driver can have in the car as well as the nighttime hours he or she can drive. Almost all states prohibit texting and cellphone use.
Are parents fooling themselves?
While surveyed parents claim they almost always monitor their teen's driving behavior when it comes to GDL restrictions, the teens strongly disagree:
- 66 percent of parents state they kept close track of nighttime restrictions, while only 32 percent of teens feel their parents monitored their behavior.
- 65 percent of parents say they enforce passenger restrictions, but only 27 percent of teens say their parents almost always kept tabs on them.
In fact, the survey showed parents tend to overstate their influence on their teens' behavior; 87 percent said that teens obey driving restrictions because of parental monitoring, but just 56 percent of teens said parents were a factor.
Asked why their teen drivers might not follow GDL laws, most parents claimed peer pressure was the No. 1 factor. Teens, on the other hand, listed "police will not catch them" as the main reason.
While parents may overestimate their influence, they are still a huge factor in producing safe teens, says Angela Thorpe, spokesperson for State Farm, "Parents are the most important role model and driving mentor for their teen," she says. "Teens who refrain from texting while driving were much more likely to report having frequent talks with their parents about safe driving."
What teens are actually doing on the road
Passenger restrictions are a key component of most GDL laws, and for good reason. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that crash risk doubles for a teen driver who has two teen passengers in the car and quadruples with three or more peer passengers.
State Farm found that only 43 percent of teens claim they are almost always in compliance with passenger restrictions -- a stark contrast to the 70 percent of parents who were convinced their teens always obey this law.
Less than half of teenagers (48 percent) claim they always obey the driving curfew; 69 percent of parents believe their teens are always off the road after hours.
Seventy-two percent of teen drivers claim they almost always obey anti-texting laws. Parents came closest on this factor, with 82 percent believing their teens complied.
What parents can do
Trust but verify. That's what experts advise, and that's what parent Michelle Morton does.
She caught her teen breaking the rules when she waited for him to come home and noticed his friends walking down the block just before he turned onto their street. When confronted, he confessed to dropping them off around the corner. Morton handed down a suspension of his driving privileges for a few weeks as punishment.
"Check up on them," she says. "They need to know that just because they are driving they don't have the freedom to do what they want."
They can pay in more than parental disapproval. Teens with a provisional license can lose their driving privileges for infractions that would cost an adult only a fine. New York, for example, suspends the license of teenage texters.
The violation of GDL laws by itself may not have insurance consequences, but the behavior that caught the cops' attention probably will. Any moving violation -- that includes texting in many states -- has a far bigger impact on a teen driver's car insurance rates than an adult's.
"A brand-new driver who immediately racks up a ticket is a big risk," says CarInsurance.com consumer analyst Penny Gusner. (See "Car insurance for young drivers.")
Kara Macek of the Governors Highway Safety Association reminds parents to make sure that they understand the GDL laws in their state -- and that they are a starting point. She says, "Parents have the power to strengthen them."