Hero Image

Teens and driving: What parents need to know

The Issue

High-risk driving is one of the most significant threats to the safety of California’s young people. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens 15 and older. Some of the factors contributing to these higher crash rates include lack of driving experience, risk-taking behavior and distractions from teenage passengers. Parents are in a prime position to influence safe teen driving because they are involved in their teenagers’ driving from the beginning and serve as primary mentors and role models in teenagers' lives.

What Has ANR Done?

Over 2,100 California high school seniors were surveyed by a team of UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development staff to find out what experiences teens have had with high-risk driving and what information they need to help them make safer decisions about driving. The students were from 13 high schools around the state. The diverse sample included students from schools in rural, small town, suburban and urban settings.

The Payoff

Parents play a critical role in teen driving

More students said that their parents were the most helpful resource for them when learning to drive (47 percent) than any other single resource. Ninety-one percent of the drivers in the sample reported having at least one parental rule about driving. However, parents were less strict about peers. Fewer than 15 percent of the teens reported they were not allowed to drive with friends in the car. Among students who reported that they had been driving for fewer than 12 months, 73 percent said that they drove with friends in the car, compared with 95 percent of the students who had been driving for 12 months or more. Among students who reported having driven for fewer than 12 months, 53 percent said they drove after 11 p.m., compared with 86 percent for students who had been driving for 12 months or more.

Getting to school was the most common reason the high school seniors cited for driving, followed by getting to work, running errands and helping with family responsibilities. Overall, more than half (55 percent) responded that they had a driver’s license. There were some students (12 percent) who reported driving despite not having a license or permit.

More than a third of the teen drivers said that they have been distracted by young passengers while driving. The most common distractions were passengers' talking, yelling, arguing or being loud. Driving after drinking was reported by 17 percent of young drivers and driving after drug use by 15 percent.

Nearly 21 percent of the young drivers reported that they had an accident as a driver. Of those, 11 percent said a cell phone was involved, either in use by the teen driver or the driver of the other car. Most students (59 percent) reported having been a passenger when a friend was driving dangerously and 39 percent had ridden with a driver who had been drinking.

These research results will help parents and teenagers understand the kinds of risks teen drivers and their passengers face.


Supporting Unit:

4-H Youth Development Program and 4-H Center for Youth Development
Carla M. Sousa, (559) 685-3309 ext 221, cmsousa@ucdavis.edu; John A. Borba, (661) 868-6216, jaborba@ucdavis.edu; Ramona M. Carlos, (530) 754-8435, rmcarlos@ucdavis.edu; Katherine E. Heck, (530) 754-8755, keheck@ucdavis.edu; Keith C. Nathaniel, (323) 260-3845, kcnathaniel@ucdavis.edu