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Parents are the worst on road role models!

22 February 2008

A controversial University research study published on 19th February 2008 cites that parental behaviour behind the wheel is seriously damaging young people’s desire to be safe drivers.  The study ‘How Do ‘Significant Others’ Influence Young People’s Beliefs About Driving?’ reads as a disturbing indictment on the state of parenting in the UK today and was conducted by its authors Amanda Green & Lisa Dorn of Cranfield University, globally renowned for its excellence in international research. This is particularly worrying news given that recent Government statistics show that it is new drivers aged between 18 – 25 that cause the most injuries and fatalities on our roads each year.

The results are shocking and compelling given the revered role of parents in the development of young people’s ways of thinking.  Parents are in the best position to set a good example but judging by the reports of their driving behaviour many parents are far from the mark.

“My dad like at the lights he gets aggressive, not road rage but he just gets aggressive with other drivers if they are going too slow…he calls them a ******. And when my mum sits in the passenger seat she sometimes, if my dad if he is going too fast, can’t stick his finger up, my mum does it for him.”

A recurring theme from the study is that young people aspire to be safe drivers but are getting the wrong message from their parents about how to behave as a driver. The study suggests most young people are more responsible than had previously been thought, rather than the constant barrage of negative messages of the ‘yob youth.’ The study also suggests we should focus more on what parents are doing to develop good attitudes in their children.

The study shows that self-image and identity are critical to young people with the need to be regarded as a good driver being primarily motivated by the need to enhance self esteem about their driving skill. So should parents go back to (driving?) school and address their behaviour?

Educating parents may be the first step towards ensuring that young people avoid acting out the dangerous behaviours they have witnessed as an inexperienced driver. As Jung once said ‘If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.’

About 20% intended to imitate their fathers’ driving styles, however, seventeen teenagers described fathers as regularly exceeding the speed limit perceiving them as being ‘cocky’ behind the wheel.

“I think my dad, well I feel more confident with my dad’s driving, although he does tend to go quite fast and he sometimes drives with his knees”

Mothers were cited as ‘lacking concentration or awareness’ with both sexes preferring to model their fathers’ driving style.

My mum you have to be alert because otherwise it’s very embarrassing. She might go ‘oh my god I need to go to…’ and she just stops in the middle of the road”

“My mum does her make up and stuff and she is always on the phone. I don’t have to concentrate when my dads driving but when my mum is driving, the lights will change or something and she won’t notice because she’s sat there looking in the mirror or something”

The research was commissioned by a²om, the revolution in young driver training and the UK’s first university-affiliated driving academy.  a²om’s ethos is simple yet compelling - to educate and empower young people to be safe drivers for life, way beyond passing a test, thus saving young lives.

Gary Austin, a²om academy’s Chairman, and former Chief Executive of the Governments Driving Standards Agency says: ‘This study now makes it very clear that driving instructors must overcome, in many cases, a lifetime of poor driving role models before they can produce safer novice drivers. It is my belief that a more comprehensive approach like that taken by a2om will become the solution of choice to this problem for many parents.’

Dr Lisa Dorn, Cranfield University’s Director of the Driving Research Group said Early experiences in the car with mum and dad strongly influence the way young people think about driving. If parents don’t seem to care about risk, why should they? Assessing attitudes whilst learning to drive and beyond is essential for road safety.’

Full details here.