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Dad's in the driver's seat among driving instructors, poll shows

Car models change with the times, but one thing remains constant: American adults turn to Dad as their main driving instructor, according to a poll commissioned by

The survey, conducted online in July 2011 by Harris Interactive on behalf of, showed that among licensed drivers, 32 percent of American men age 18 and older and 26 percent of women age 18 and older said they learned to drive from their fathers. Overall, Dad was the No. 1 instructor among men and women.

For licensed drivers between ages 18 and 34, the dad-leaning percentage was especially high:

• Thirty-eight percent of men in that age group said Dad was their primary driving teacher; just 21 percent of that same group cited Mom.

• For women in that age group, 31 percent pointed to Dad as their main instructor. Mom ran a close second, at 28 percent.

learning how to drive

Among licensed drivers in the poll, 25 percent of men and 23 percent of women said they learned how to drive through a school-sponsored driver's education program. Meanwhile, 12 percent of women said they learned from private driving instructors, compared with 6 percent of men. Thirteen percent of men and 5 percent of women said they were self-taught drivers.

Whether it’s Dad, Mom or someone else in the passenger seat, helping a teen learn how to drive is no small task.

“Parents need to take the job seriously – it could be the most important thing they do,” says Anne Marie Hayes, president of the Teens Learn to Drive Foundation and author of “3 Keys to Keeping your Teen Alive: Lessons for Surviving the First Year of Driving.”

Parents also should consider that many auto insurance companies offer their own online programs to teach students about safe driving, or they have lists of online programs for teen drivers that meet an insurer’s approval, says Lynne McChristian, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

"It makes sense for parents to ... check with their insurance company to get recommendations on driving instruction technology that can augment the behind-the-wheel lessons of Mom and Dad," McChristian says, "and bring insurance discounts."

Here are six other things to consider when getting behind the wheel with your teen:

1. Get in the right frame of mind. Wenndi Freer, a San Diego mom of two who is teaching her 16-year-old son to drive, focuses on preparation before getting in the car with her teen. “It takes a combination of being relaxed and alert,” she says.

2. Practice, practice, practice. Schedule two hours of practice driving each week with your teen, Hayes says. Start in a deserted parking lot, then gradually introduce your child to more complex situations.

3. Instill confidence. When it came time for Phil Bridges’ daughter to get behind the wheel, he spent hours in the car with her – before any driving course.

“I wanted her to be confident and familiar with the mechanical aspects of the car before she started driver’s ed,” says Bridges, who lives in Raleigh, N.C.

The two started in a parking lot, then switched to quiet side streets and eventually busier city streets. Bridges’ plan paid off: His 15-year-old daughter was ready to comfortably take the wheel when she started driver’s ed.

learning how to drive

4. Keep instructions useful. During practice sessions, “I give a lot of guidance,” says Wendy Troncone, a mother of two in Walden, N.Y., who is teaching her 17-year-old son to drive. “I tell him to watch his rear-view mirror at the bottom of a hill for those that are flying too fast, or that if you hear gravel under your tires you are too far to the right – don’t panic, just move over a little.”

5. Make the most of driver’s ed. A good program will give your child an introduction to driving and can help you brush up on new driving laws and techniques, says Sharon Fife, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas. One example: Hand placement on the steering wheel. “A lot of people think hands should be at the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions,” Fife says. “But now, because of air bags, it’s better to place hands at 4 and 8, or 9 and 3.”

6. Know the laws. As you teach your teen, follow the "graduated driver license" rules for your state. To find out about your state laws, visit the Governors Highway Safety Association website.

It’s about safety

Proper driving instruction can keep the roads safer. Car crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers, accounting for more than one in three deaths in this age group, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Teens are particularly vulnerable because of their immaturity and inexperience, experts say.

Alcohol consumption also plays a role. In 2008, one-fourth of drivers ages 15 to 20 who died in car crashes had blood-alcohol levels at or above the legal limit of 0.08, according to the CDC.

The poll of licensed drivers found that alcohol often is involved in the driving scene for teens:

• Forty-seven percent of men and 35 percent of women reported riding, as a teenager, with a driver after that person had consumed alcohol.

• Guys dominate underage drinking and driving. Twenty-seven percent of men said they drove after consuming alcohol as a teen driver, compared with 14 percent of women.

Hayes suggests establishing a "contract" between parents and their teenage children that establishes rules about driving, particularly drunken driving. According to Hayes, one of the questions that should be covered is: “If someone gets in the car with alcohol – or an open bottle of alcohol – how should you react?”

Promoting responsibility

The good news about teens and car crashes: The accidents are preventable, Hayes says. Here are four ways to build up your teen’s skills and reduce their risk of getting into a crash.

1. Start young. Marty Beene of Alameda, Calif., spent years steering his 16-year-old son toward getting behind the wheel, starting when his son began riding a bike in traffic with the family when he was in sixth grade. Over the years, both Beene and his wife taught their son how to ride a bike safely while pointing out smart things to do when driving a car. When you're on a bike, it’s easy to see and take note of the not-so-smart things drivers do, Beene says.

2. Be a good role model. Parents should set a good driving example at all times, not just when teaching a child to drive, says David Reich, a spokesman for the National Road Safety Foundation. If you don’t put on a seat belt or fail to come to a complete stop, your child will pick up that bad habit.

3. Keep conversations open. If Aaron Welch’s 15-year-old son, who is learning how to drive, makes a mistake, Welch focuses on encouragement, not anxiety. “I try very hard to not overreact to anything he does wrong,” says Welch, who lives in Orlando, Fla. “It only makes him more nervous than he already is, and I want him to feel empowered and confident.” If his son does make a mistake, Welch talks to him about it in a calm manner.

4. Take advantage of available resources. Driving videos and materials are available for free through the National Road Safety Foundation. Many of these resources cover the importance of making good decisions behind the wheel, says Reich, the foundation spokesman.

Survey methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of from July 22-26, 2011, among 2,410 adults ages 18 and older, of whom 2,232 were licensed drivers. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and, therefore, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact

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