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C’mon Parents, Let’s Be Better Role Models

C’mon Parents, Let’s Be Better Role Models

DETROIT – As parents, we’re not being good role models behind the wheel, and it’s killing our kids.

“If I could focus on one thing, it would be parents,” says Kirk Ferris, director-driver programs division at the Michigan Department of State. “Parents are the problem.”

As a parent myself, those words were difficult to hear during a recent conference on teen driving safety hosted by General Motors and its new safety czar, Jeff Boyer.

But statistics substantiate the argument that too many adult drivers still engage in dangerous behaviors such as driving unbelted, texting while driving and driving intoxicated. Our kids are watching from the earliest ages, and when they become licensed drivers they emulate us to oftentimes deadly consequences.

According to a Safe Kids Worldwide report funded by a $2 million grant from GM, more teens die in car crashes, about 2,500 per year, than by any other cause. Among the 1,000 teens surveyed for the report, 31% said they feel unsafe with their parents behind the wheel (CLICK HERE to see a clip from Toyota's TeenDrive365 campaign).

More than half of the kids polled said their parents talk on the phone while driving, and 28% have seen them text while driving.

But perhaps most importantly, teens are not buckling up enough, experts say. In half of the crashes involving a driver less than 21, the victim was unbelted. An equal number of teen passengers are dying because they are unbelted.

One in four teens said they do not use a seatbelt on every ride, and 34% said it was because it was not a habit.

In groups, it gets worse, as 33% said they did not buckle up because they were going to a party. In fact, researchers say, the risk of a crash rises 44% with two teens in a car. Three teens double the risk and a fourth increases the risk four-fold.

Ironically, federal crash statistics show seatbelt use at an all-time high of 87% in 2013, up from 86% in 2012 and sharply higher than 58% in 1994.

But those statistics miss the fact that drivers are continually recycled, with younger ones hitting the roadways every day. Young people also face peer pressure from friends who do not buckle up.

Other times, as in the case of then-15-year-old Presley Melton and 17-year-old Lindsay Craven, it can be a case of youthful exuberance. The girls always buckled up, but on one short errand in 2006 they didn’t. Craven lost control of her car on a rain-slicked curve, it left the roadway, rolled several times and both girls were ejected. Craven died at the scene, and Melton, now a safe-driving advocate, still suffers from injuries sustained in the crash.

Distraction is emerging as another major issue with teen drivers. Among the surveyed teens, who were aged between 13 and 19, 39% said they have been riding in a vehicle with a texting driver. Another 43% reported riding in a vehicle with a driver talking on the phone.

The teens know it is bad behavior, too, because one in four teens asked the driver to stop.

If those statistics are not startling, perhaps you are part of the problem. I’m as guilty as anyone. I recently reached for my phone to check a text alert, and my 9-year-old daughter quickly admonished me from the back seat.

Smart girl, I thought at the time. But now I think, dumb Dad, because I should be setting the tone for driving safety, not my fourth grader.

“Role model behavior starts very early, as soon as they begin observing what you are doing,” warns Torine Creppy, chief program officer at Safe Kids. “Safe passengers today make good drivers tomorrow.”

Creppy offers these tips. Implore your kids to buckle up on every trip, no matter how short. Talk to teens about speaking up if they feel unsafe. There should be zero tolerance for alcohol or other substance abuse while driving, and the same applies to texting while driving. Also remember, teen drivers are inexperienced drivers.

“Instill some rules,” adds John Capp, director-electrical and controls systems research at GM. “Get rid of the phone and other distractions so the teen can learn to drive.”

Perhaps a contract between yourself and your teen would be in order, the experts say, where real consequences result from poor driving habits. And that goes for the parent, as well as the teen.

But most of all, parents, become better role models. It could save your child’s life.

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