Teens Need Better Driving Practice From Parents, AAA Study Finds

More time spent behind the wheel and in varied road conditions was advised.

October 12, 2010, 7:38 AM

Oct. 12, 2010 — -- When parents teach their teenagers how to drive, the experience can be filled with loads of pressure and anxiety.

"You got a red light. You got a red light," says one dad as his daughter nearly blows a traffic signal.

"There's a siren. You need to pull over. You need to pull over to the right!" shouts another dad as a patrol car speeds by the car his daughter is driving. "Did you not understand what I meant by pull over?"

Despite the stress and the emotions that come with teaching teenagers how to drive, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety says those supervised lessons are incredibly important, because car crashes are the leading cause of death for that group.

To read an excerpt of a handbook for parents and teenagers on staying safe behind the wheel, click here and here.

Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States, and the first few years appear to be the most dangerous. In 2008, 1,368 U.S. drivers between the ages of 15 and 18 died in traffic crashes.

In a new study released this week by the foundation, AAA took an unprecedented look for four months at parents and teenagers as they hit the road during driving lessons. The study included 50 North Carolina families with teenagers driving with learners permits. Dashboard cameras were attached to the families' cars and parents were interviewed 10 times during the year-long learners period.

From the study, which was conducted by the University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center, AAA found that parents did not spend enough time teaching their teenagers how to drive and that teenagers did not get enough diverse driving experience before they received their licenses.

Driving: 'The Best Way Is to Practice'

Peter Kissinger, the foundation's president, said the most interesting and disappointing result of the study was the small amount of time parents spent teaching their teenagers how to drive.

The study found that parents spent less than two hours supervising their teenage drivers per week. Kissinger said the AAA foundation would like to see parents spend 100 hours supervising during a teenage driver's permit phase, although the majority of states require only 50.

Sixty-eight percent of parents in the study said that opportunities to drive together were limited by busy schedules.

"The best way [to learn] is to practice, with an engaged parent," he said. "Everyone goes through a learning process."

Kissinger said the leading cause of most deadly crashes involving teenagers was inexperience.

"A disappointing [result was] that only 20 percent of the time parents [and teenagers were] in the car at night, rain and heavy traffic. Eighty percent were found in benign or routine circumstances -- to and from school, to and from church. Parents need to give additional experience," he said.

According to the study, parents need to teach their children how to drive in all types of conditions -- weather, highways and in the dark.

Twenty percent of teen fatalities occur between 9 p.m. and midnight -- that's higher than the overall population.

Forty-seven percent of the parents who participated in the study said that after the year-long learner's permit stage, they still had one condition -- such as rainy weather or heavy traffic -- in which they did not feel comfortable letting their teenager drive. However, 37 percent of those families still let their teen get a license within a month of becoming eligible.

AAA Offers Some Advice

Kissinger offered a few suggestions for parents teaching their teenagers how to drive:

"Sometimes what I like to do is look two or three cars ahead of you to see what's going on," one father tells his teenage driver in one of the dash-cam videos.

"To ensure safety is to spend time with the (teenage drivers) before they drive independently," Kissinger said.