Study: Distracted Teen Drivers Calling Parents Behind Wheel

The study shows that more than half of teenage drivers often take calls from their parents while behind the wheel

When it comes to distracted teen driving, a new study shows parents play a direct role, with many teens are actually using their cellphones to call their mother or father while behind the wheel.

According to new research presented this week at the American Psychological Association's (APA) 122nd Annual Convention in Washington, D.C., more than half of teenage drivers often take calls from their parents while driving.

Researchers interviewed more than 400 teenage drivers ages 15 to 18 across 31 states and found that, despite warnings about the dangers of distracted driving, many teens answer their phone if it’s their parent on the other end because parents expect to be able to reach them at all times.

“Parents get mad if they don't answer their phone and they have to tell parents where they are," said Noelle LaVoie, PhD, a cognitive psychologist based in Petaluma, Calif., at the presentation.

The teens surveyed also said their parents use cellphones while driving and that “everyone is doing it,” according to the study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

"Parents need to understand that this is not safe and emphasize to their children that it's not normal or acceptable behavior," said LaVoie. "Ask the question, 'Are you driving?' If they are, tell them to call you back or to find a spot to pull over so they can talk."

LaVoie said there are several cellphone applications available that can alert someone that the person they're trying to contact is driving.

In terms of texting while driving, the study found teens were more likely to send text messages to their friends than their parents, with 16 percent of 18-year-old participants saying they had texted mom or dad while 8 percent of 15 to 17 year-old drivers said the same.

Distracted driving among teenagers continues to be a major problem.

A 2013 report by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that distracted driving causes 11 percent of fatal crashes among teens, with 21 percent of those deadly crashes involving cellphones.

The NHTSA says 71 percent of teens say they have written and sent a text message while driving, while 78 percent say they’ve read a text while behind the wheel.

In 2012 alone, 3,328 people were killed in distracted driving crashes on America’s roadways. The NHTSA says texting while driving creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.

Additionally, a 2013 survey by Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions and also presented at the APA convention found that 86 percent of 11th and 12th graders use a phone while driving. In that survey, every teen who admitted to using a cellphone while driving said they talked to parents, while 20 percent talked to friends.

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