Keeping teen drivers safe on the road
While teen drivers have a notoriously high risk of car accidents and fatalities, our recent survey showed a high level of parental trust in teen drivers. Does this trust stem from the safety measures parents put in place — for instance, using monitoring apps and picking cars with certain safety features? And how do teens feel about those measures?
To find out, Progressive surveyed 255 parents of teen drivers and 291 unrelated teen drivers (age 16–18) in March 2022. We asked them about monitoring apps, car safety features, and driving habits to better understand how parents and teens navigate driving safety. Of the teens, 158 had a driver's license, 118 had a learner's permit, and 15 had a restricted license. We also interviewed parents and teens about their experiences with teen driver monitoring.
- Confidence in teen driving habits: Seventy percent of parents said they're confident in their teens' driving safety, but that number is at odds with the proven risks of teenage driving and how teens rate their driving habits.
- Teen driver monitoring: More than half of parents (54%) use a driving tracking app for teen driver monitoring. Teens have mixed feeling about their parents tracking them.
- Car tech and teen driving safety: Despite evidence that car technologies can increase teen driving safety, only 35% of parents consider warning systems the most important feature of a new car for their teen. And 39% of teens drive cars that their parents handed down to them.
- Overall: To encourage safer driving and reduce the risk of accidents, more parents can take a combined approach of using proven car safety technologies, monitoring their teens' driving with apps, and regularly discussing driving habits.
Confidence in teen driving habits
When assessing the risks for their teen drivers, parents may need to be more realistic — their kids might not be driving as cautiously as they think. According to our survey, most parents are confident that their teens drive safely. But this high level of trust is at odds with the dangers teens face on the road — and the risks they admit to taking.
Despite parental trust, teens aged 16 to 19 are nearly four times more likely to be in a car crash than drivers 20 and older, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and Highway Loss Data Institute (IIHS-HLDI). That makes car crash injuries the second leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Do parent and teen perceptions of safe driving habits match up?
Our survey showed that teens seem to have stricter safe driving standards than their parents, and they may be more willing to admit it when they don't live up to those standards. While only 3% of parents said their teen drives aggressively, 9% of teens admitted doing so. And while only 3% of parents admitted to driving aggressively themselves, 20% of teens said the parent they ride with most often drives aggressively.
This disparity between what parents believe and what teens say also came through when the survey asked them about each other's caution on the road.
Teen driver monitoring
While most parents think their teens drive cautiously, that doesn't stop them from encouraging safer teen driving by using monitoring apps and having conversations about the data those apps report. Over half of surveyed parents use an app to monitor their teen drivers and report "peace of mind" as their number one reason for using a tracking app, followed by the "opportunity to teach safe driving."
As their parents have adopted these apps, teens have mixed feelings about being monitored on the road. For those whose parents aren't monitoring them, 22% said it would make them feel safer, 39% would not like it, and 38% wouldn't care. In contrast, teens already being tracked had a more positive view, with 33% saying it makes them feel safer, 49% reporting neutral feelings, and only 18% saying they don't like being monitored. And based on our interviews with teens and their parents, those feelings may change based on family dialogue, the level of monitoring, and the teen's driving history.
Popular monitoring apps for parents of teen drivers
Most teen driving monitoring apps on the market use GPS to track location via cell phone, dongle, or beacon in the car. As movement is detected, the following information may be transmitted to the app:
- Cell phone use
- Seat belt use
- Hard braking
- Rapid acceleration
The most popular teenage driving monitoring app in our survey was Life 360, used by 51% of parents who track their teens. Other apps parents used include MamaBear, Automatic, TrueMotion Family Safe Driving, RoadReady, and Bouncie.
Q&A with the Tisdale family
How parents use monitoring apps
Page Tisdale has used Life360 to monitor her two children since her daughter, Delaney (now 21), first started driving alone at age 16 in their home state of South Carolina. According to South Carolina's graduated driver's license laws, teens can get learners' permits starting at 15. At 15 1/2, they can get a conditional license that lets them drive alone during daylight hours.
"I was worried to death that she was going to kill herself or somebody else," said Tisdale, who initially used Life360 to track speed and location. The app came in handy, particularly when Delaney had a fender bender and claimed it wasn't her fault. "I could see that she was going 15 miles over the speed limit, which means I knew that she was going too fast for conditions," said Tisdale. "It definitely helped me have that conversation. Without it, I would have had to trust her story."
After her daughter's accident, Tisdale found that the monitoring increased her daughter's driving anxiety, so she stopped using it for driving behaviors and simply used it for location. The app was particularly helpful when Delaney started driving the four hours to and from college. Tisdale still uses the app to avoid needlessly distracting her daughter and 18-year-old son while they're driving: "I check to make sure no one's in motion before sending them a message."
How teens feel about monitoring apps
Tisdale said her 18-year-old son is in the "don't care" camp, but her daughter Delaney was more sensitive about her parents tracking her. Delaney explained, "I was angry about my parents having to know where I was every moment of the day. But I started coming around when they didn't seem to care as much about where I was and were using it more as a safety measure. I realized it was not going to ruin my life."
Once she got to college, Delaney kept the app turned off unless she was driving home for a visit. Now that she's back home and living in an apartment, she voluntarily uses the app — to feel a part of the family circle again — and finds herself checking on her family's whereabouts regularly.
"I feel like car accidents are the main source of our family's anxiety. Every time you get into the car, you know it's always a risk," she said. "And it brings some comfort to know that we can just go on an app and see that we've made it somewhere or see that we're moving along."
Using apps from insurance companies
Another option for monitoring teen drivers is through a usage-based insurance (UBI) program. Usage-based apps from insurance companies monitor driving habits and may reward safe drivers with discounts on their auto insurance policy . Several parents in our survey (25%) use their UBI app as a way to monitor their teens' driving behaviors.
Progressive's Snapshot uses a phone app or a plug-in device to track driving habits. The app rewards users who avoid higher-risk behaviors, including hard braking, rapid acceleration, late night driving, long hours behind the wheel, and phone use while driving.
Other ways to monitor teen drivers
Some parents report using location trackers like Find My iPhone, AT&T Drive Mode, and iPhone’s Driving Focus to track their teens and prevent them from texting and driving. Some parents (28%) and teens (53%) also use phone features like iPhone's Do Not Disturb to prevent distractions.
For example, Driving Focus can detect when you're driving and automatically silence calls if your iPhone isn't connected to a hands-free program. It can also silence text notifications and automatically send replies that you're driving. While these features don't provide in-depth driving reports, they can go a long way toward encouraging safe driving habits in teens by automatically limiting their distractions.
Q&A with the Allen family
Using other methods to encourage safe driving
Christy Allen uses location sharing on her iPhone to keep track of her 16-year-old daughter. She has a restricted South Carolina driver's license that allows her to drive alone at night to work and school activities.
"I wasn't terribly worried about her driving because we had allowed her to drive a good bit before she could drive on her own," said Allen. "I tried to make sure she had driven in all different types of scenarios. She also went to the driving school that is required, which is definitely a lot more training than we received when we were learning to drive."
Allen tried Life360 and used it for about a week before deciding she didn't like it. "I just felt that this information is not helping me. It was just making me anxious."
"I also felt like Life360 was too intrusive, and I think back to myself — I was a super responsible teenager, and I know I wouldn't have wanted my parents to know my every move. I just didn't feel like I needed to track her at that level."
Her daughter also got into a minor accident when she first started driving, which Allen thinks helped her learn to pay attention more when behind the wheel. "This was something I had repeated over and over: You have to pay attention to everyone else, even if what you're doing is right. So, I think the accident helped with that lesson."
Effective monitoring includes conversation and trust
No matter how a parent monitors their teen's driving, dialogue and trust are important to reinforce safe driving habits.
Ryan Pietzsch, a program technical consultant for driver safety, education, and training at the National Safety Council, says effective monitoring comes down to trust. If you don't trust your child, they may feel like you're monitoring them to control them. But if your teen trusts that you're doing it to keep them safe as part of your job as a parent, they'll be more likely to accept passive monitoring.
Pietzsch has a 16-year-old daughter who recently got her learner's permit. He reminds parents that teens process information through emotion and not always rational thought. If you see a speeding incident or something unusual while monitoring your teen driver, ask them how it happened and listen. You can have a conversation about handling the situation in the safest way.
Our survey indicates that parents are following these best practices. Ninety percent of parents said they regularly discuss driving habits with their children based on their tracking app's report. And 59% take it a step further and reward or punish their young drivers based on those reports.
Car tech and teen driving safety
Besides monitoring teen drivers and discussing their driving habits, parents can promote safer driving by purchasing vehicles with safety technology. Research shows that a combination of tech systems used properly can significantly increase the safety of teen drivers.
Effectiveness of safety features for teen drivers
Some auto manufacturers have designed safety technology that allows parents to control certain vehicle settings when their teen (or another driver) is behind the wheel. These may include:
- Muting the audio system until everyone in the car has buckled their seat belts
- Preventing the car from shifting until buckled
- Setting maximum speeds and speed warnings
- Limiting the highest volume on the audio system
- Reporting driving behaviors and maximum speeds
An IIHS-HLDI study on driving technology and teens found that controlling driving risks — speeding, not wearing a seat belt, driving at night — has the largest potential to reduce teen crashes and fatalities. Combining teen driving settings with front crash prevention, lane departure prevention, and blind-spot warning could prevent or mitigate 41% of all crashes involving teen drivers. It can also prevent or mitigate up to 47% of teen driver injuries and 78% of teen driver deaths.
However, to make this safety tech as effective as possible, you must understand how it works and teach your teen what the different systems can do, according to NSC's Pietzsch. "A forward collision warning system will not stop the car, but a forward collision prevention system such as automatic emergency braking would," he said. "So, making sure they understand the difference is very essential."
Parents are less focused on car tech — older cars could be a factor
Despite the efficacy of car safety technology, only 10% of parents in our survey utilize teen-focused car manufacturer controls in the vehicles their teens drive. And only 35% of parents said warning systems for blind spots, lane departure, and forward collision were the most important features when considering a car for their teen drivers. Thirty-one percent rated warning systems as fairly important but not the deciding factor.
Interestingly, 45% of teens said warning systems were essential and would be their deciding factor if they were buying a new car.
Safety technology may be less of a focus for some parents because teens often inherit family cars. Teen drivers also tend to drive less expensive used models that don't have those features. As Rebecca Weast, a research scientist at IIHS specializing in teen drivers, points out, "Most people keep a car for upwards of 10 years, and parents are more likely to give a kid a handed-down vehicle rather than buying them a brand-new shiny vehicle with all the technology."
To promote more safety technology in vehicles for teens, Weast recommends parents start thinking about what their kids might be driving when they're still in booster seats. "If you're shopping for a family vehicle when your kid is five years old, maybe that car will be handed down to your kid," she said. "Keep in mind that this car could be a teen's vehicle."
Parents are the key to teen driving safety
Turning a young driver loose on the roads can be exhilarating and terrifying for teens and their parents. If you're a defensive driver who's been modeling safe driving since your kid was in a car seat, you've already accomplished the first step of teaching your teen safe driving by demonstrating how to do it, says National Safety Council expert Ryan Pietzsch.
Taking driver's ed classes and passing the driving test are the next steps, but what comes next can make the biggest difference in keeping them safe.
"Even after they get their driver's license, parent involvement doesn't stop," said Pietzsch. He encourages parents to use technology to monitor and coach young drivers toward safer decisions.
While most parents in our survey were confident in their teens and trusted them to be cautious drivers, the data shows that even cautious teens can be involved in a crash due to their lack of experience. Fortunately, parents can reduce the risks for teen drivers by following the experts' advice: Monitor and discuss safe driving habits, equip them with the safest vehicle you can afford, and keep the lines of communication open. If you do that, you can set up your teen driver for success on the road.
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