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Teens and Driving

How attitudes and peer influence affect teen driving

New research on teen driving indicates the need to address attitudes and peer influences, not just rules and skills, now more than ever. The data, Chronic: A Report on the State of Teen Driving, was compiled by the Allstate Foundation and marks the launch of a new multi-year program that will confront the leading public health threat to teenagers: teen motor-vehicle crashes.

Despite improvements in roadways, safer cars and restrictive driving laws, the number of teen deaths attributed to teen motor-vehicle crashes has remained consistent at nearly 6,000 fatalities per year for the past 10 years. In addition, each year, more than 300,000 teens are injured as a result of a teen crash. Among 16-year-old drivers, the leading cause of fatal crashes is driver error (77 percent), followed by speeding (38 percent) and alcohol (less than 25 percent).

The Allstate Foundation is tapping an obvious but sometimes overlooked authority - teens - to help develop remedies that encourage future generations to adopt smarter driving habits. By presenting a teen-centric program, teens will be empowered to tackle this epidemic themselves.

Recent research into adolescent brain development may explain why established teen driver-education programs have not been more effective in reducing teen crash statistics. "Advances in MRI technology have allowed us to prove the brain matures over a much longer period of time than was previously thought," said Dr. Jay Giedd, a leading neuroscientist based in Potomac, Md., specializing in teen brain development. "Areas involved in multi-tasking, impulse control and the ability to envision consequences - areas crucial for driving - are still developing until age 25."

These scientific findings help decipher attitudes teens have about driving, as further reflected in a recent teen survey conducted by The Allstate Foundation. A sampling of teen attitudes that emerged from the study include:

I'm faced with a lot of distractions

While teens know the rules of the road, they struggle with distractions and admit to potentially risky behaviors "very often," "often," or "sometimes." Yet, teens are reluctant to give up distractions, such as friends as passengers, cell phones and music.

- 56 percent make and answer phone calls whie driving.
- 13 percent drive while reading or writing text messages.
- 47 percent said passengers sometimes distract them.

If I'm sober, I'm safe

Teens appear to believe drinking and driving is the major cause of crashes when in fact, drinking is a factor in 13 percent of crashes involving 16-year-olds and less than 25 percent overall. The reality is that 75 percent of teen deaths on the road are due to speeding and driver error.

- Half of the respondents (51 percent) believed that most crashes involving teens result from driving drunk.

Speeding is normal

Although speeding causes almost half of all teen-driving fatalities, teens say speeding is part of the daily driving experience.

- 69 percent of teens that speed do so to keep up with traffic.
- One out of four self-identified aggressive teen drivers (26 percent) reported speeding by more than 20 mph over the limit.
- Four times as many males as females (25 vs. 6 percent) said they speed because it is "fun."
- 64 percent polled speed up to go through a yellow light.

It's not me, it's them

Most teens believe they are good drivers and it's other teens that drive "recklessly, distractedly, cluelessly."

- 43 percent classified their own driving as "somewhat" or "very defensive" behind the wheel.
- 62 percent called their peers "somewhat aggressive" or "very aggressive" drivers.
- Nearly 70 percent of teens say they've felt unsafe when someone else was driving but less than half (45 percent) said they would speak up.

I'm a good driver, not a safe driver

Teens don't view "good" and "safe" driving as one and the same.

- 83 percent "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" that people can be skilled drivers but not safe drivers.
- While 46 percent of male teens said they are "better" drivers than females, only 22 percent claim they are "safer" drivers than their female counterparts.

Today, teen safe-driving efforts generally focus on teaching driving skills and traffic laws, or on limiting teens' risk exposure via Graduated Driver Licensing laws. To amplify these vital initiatives, The Allstate Foundation is examining the attitudes and motivations that influence teen driving, while creating a forum that empowers teens to raise awareness of the issue and find solutions, peer-to-peer. The Foundation will pursue such teen interaction as part of a broader, community-wide effort that also involves parents, schools and law enforcement organizations.

"While we have made progress in protecting young drivers through Graduated Driver Licensing laws, teens continue to face very high risks on the road," said Susan Ferguson, senior vice president, research, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "In a comprehensive community-wide effort, peer-to-peer programs could be a useful tool to have teens communicate with each other about what, how, when, where and with whom they should be driving."

Meeting teens on their terms and in their language is at the heart of The Allstate Foundation's new safe-driving initiative, as demonstrated at their recent teen summit in Los Angeles. Forty-three teens from across the country convened to share attitudes about driving and proposed program ideas. As the initiative continues to unfold, this Teen Advisory Panel will shape the program strategy and grassroots approach. In addition, experts in auto safety, teen psychology and brain development, teen lifestyles, as well as parents and teens affected by the tragic consequences of unsafe teen driving, will guide this initiative.


The Allstate Foundation's teen driver research, conducted from March 2005 through July 2005, included an online national survey of 1,000 respondents ages 15 to 17, and a series of in-depth focus group discussions. The margin of error (at the 95 percent confidence level) for the total number of respondents in this study is ±3 percent. The Allstate Foundation commissioned Teen Research Unlimited to conduct the study.

About The Allstate Foundation
Established in 1952, The Allstate Foundation is an independent, charitable organization made possible by subsidiaries of The Allstate Corporation. The Allstate Foundation sponsors community initiatives to promote "safe and vital communities;" "tolerance, inclusion, and diversity;" and "economic empowerment."

(Source: Allstate Foundation Report)