COUPEVILLE, Wash. — Mason Lamb knows all the rules as he drives to school each day. Rules like no texting or racing. Buckle up. If he gets caught speeding, his mom Debbie Lamb has promised to yank his license for three months. When he drives friends, he's been reminded that their lives are in his hands.
It is unlikely that the 18-year-old always drives as careful as she hopes, his mom admits. She counts on the fact that the area is rural, the distance not great, the young driver a good kid. But she also knows the rules, she said. Occasionally, she breaks them.
"We're not perfect," she says, half smile, half sigh in her voice.
There are heartening indications that teens are getting the message that distracted driving is dangerous. A just-released national survey by Bridgestone Americas found young drivers change their behavior for the better even when driving with friends. They are on their best behavior driving with mom or dad.
That's the good news. The bad news is they're still doing things they know are not wise, said the teen driver survey, which had support from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The survey found that a "striking" 95 percent of teens read texts and emails when they're driving by themselves — a number that drops to 32 percent around their friends and clear to 7 percent when they are with their parents.
Similarly, 9 in 10 post to friends while they drive alone, compared to 29 percent when they're with friends and 5 percent with parents. Three-fourths say they have watched a video when driving alone, compared to 45 percent when with peers and 7 percent with parents.
In fact, at least three-fourths of the young drivers also admit to browsing social media sites, taking pictures, editing and posting those pictures, and other behaviors. Asked whether such behaviors are acceptable, the numbers in each category dropped well below 10 percent.
The next step is to move the needle from knowing better to doing better, said Kristin Robinson, a Bridgestone spokesperson. She believes there's reason to hope that's beginning to happen. Last year's survey found "teens still in denial," she noted. They justified texting and other risky activities while driving as not being a big deal.
The new survey included 2,065 drivers ages 16 to 21 who were asked their perceptions of their own driving, how much they participate in both digital and other types of distractions and their perceptions on several driving-related topics.
The 2013 response stands out, she said, "because it changes to when and in front of whom texting is acceptable. They recognize it's not as socially acceptable. ... I grew up during the seat belt campaign and it reminds me of then. It's a no-brainer now you need to put your seat belt on, and I think we're going that way with distracted driving."
While three-fourths of the young drivers surveyed said the don't mind being disconnected from the digital world while driving, a lot of them don't disconnect, at least part of the time, the report showed. Their rationale for participating in distractions while driving included "I take extra precautions to make sure I don't get too distracted" (63 percent), "I have to. Life is just too busy" (17 percent) and the twin excuses that I do it a lot and nothing has happened and I'm a safer driver than everyone else (both at 15 percent). Nearly half cited the No. 2 rationale, "I don't believe I get too distracted while driving."
The other really striking finding in the survey is how much influence parents have on how teens drive and what habits they form. Asked where their driving habits originated, 63 percent said parents or guardians. Next closest was 16 percent who credited or blamed a driving school outside of high school, 8 percent in a driving school within high school, and 4 percent an older sibling. It dwindles from there.
"Parents have a huge responsibility," said Robinson. "Parents are at the top of the list where teens get their habits."
The teen responses reinforced some stereotypes. For instance, young drivers said males are more apt to take risk and that young drivers are much more likely to follow rules when they are driving with their parents in the car.
Each generation finds its own risks. While nearly all young drivers wear their seat belts and most don't engage in the kind of dangerous driving behaviors favored by prior generations, such as drag racing and drifting, the report said, a fair portion multitask profusely, such as talking on their cell phones while driving or using handheld gaming devices. Others, it added, get behind the wheel while tired.
That's one of the challenges for the Lambs. Mason is their youngest; the others learned to drive before cell phones and texting were nearly a staple of the teen life experience.
"This is all new to us. The other kids didn't text like he texts," Debbie Lamb said. "It's different now."
Most of the teens surveyed consider themselves to be average drivers (56 percent), while 42 percent consider themselves above average in behind-the-wheel skills. Three-quarters of them consider their friends average drivers, 16 percent say they're below average and 8 percent say their friends are better than most. They note their friends consider themselves above average in greater numbers (36 percent).
Bridgestone Americas is also sponsoring a scholarship video contest with some hefty prizes, including a $25,000 first prize. Details of the teen video driver safety contest are online at teensdrivesmart.com, along with details of a national driver safety tour.
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