- - Thursday, May 5, 2011

U.S. teens and tweens say their parents are riskier drivers than they claim, according to a new national survey commissioned by Ford Motor Company. While nearly all parents say they are safe drivers and good role models for their kids, more than half (51 percent) admit their teens and tweens have asked them to slow down, stop talking or texting by hand, or practice other safe driving behaviors.

An even larger number (80 percent) of teens and tweens have seen their parents engage in risky actions behind the wheel while looking to their elders as driving role models. Meantime, 78 percent of tweens say their mothers and fathers have “a lot of influence” on the way they will drive and 66 percent of teenage drivers say their parents’ actions influence their driving.

“There seems to be a gap between parents saying they drive safely and what their kids observe,” said Sue Cischke, Ford group vice president, Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering. “Eating, reading and hand-held texting are bad habits that teens and tweens pick up. Ford continues to be part of the solution by expanding our teen safe driving education program and in-vehicle technologies that help improve safe driving behavior.”

Other key findings from the new survey:

82 percent of parents expressed interest in enrolling their child in a safe driver training program, yet less than 20 percent currently do

With many schools outsourcing driver education programs nationwide, 83 percent of parents who have seen such cuts express concern

Parents rank more comprehensive driver education programs as the top way to improve safety while teens prioritize new technologies such as voice-controlled, hands-free connectivity systems

Ford continues to invest heavily in new safety technology and is ramping up its Driving Skills for Life program by extending its cost-free training to 30 additional markets in 2011, providing parents and new drivers with enhanced tools and driving skills. To date, 400,000 students have participated in the program, which includes hands-on driving along with web-based learning and tutorials built into school curricula.

“Open communication with your child is vital as they are reaching the driving age,” said family communications expert Dr. Charles Sophy. “First, set a positive example or they won’t take you seriously. Then, take time to talk with them about expectations like curfews, driving destinations and speed limits, and do so on a regular basis. Encourage them to attend local driving clinics or volunteer with community police departments to see firsthand what happens on the road. This can help empower your youngsters to make good decisions.”

Today, Ford hosts an interactive panel discussion led by Dr. Sophy and company safety experts to interpret the research results and discuss ways to enhance teen driving safety. The panel includes Jim Graham, manager, Ford Driving Skills for Life; and Andy Sarkisian, Ford safety planning and strategy manager and one of the creators of Ford’s MyKey teen driving safety technology and his daughter Lauren, who inspired the innovation after two crashes. Nicole Blades, contributor toCosmopolitan Magazine, is moderating the panel.

According to NHTSA, in 2009 there were more than 2,300 young (age 15 to 20 years) driver fatalities and nearly 200,000 young drivers injured in crashes. While inattention or distraction - such as daydreaming, talking with passengers, eating or hand-held texting - is a factor for 11 percent of all drivers in fatal crashes, it is reported that 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted while driving.

The most compelling research shows distractions that take drivers’ eyes away from the road for an extended period of time are a factor in nearly 80 percent of accidents. Ford’s findings show teens most commonly report their parents are distracted by eating or drinking (57 percent), talking or texting on a hand-held phone (42 percent), and other distractions such as grooming (32 percent).

Ford emphasizes through its Driving Skills for Life program and new technologies how to combat these risks after its research showed that teens can be particularly distracted with new electronics. For example, Ford’s research showed teens generally look away from the road longer to perform tasks such as dialing a phone number.

Ford is also making advancements in auto safety technologies to shape teens’ current and future driving experiences, such as:

MyKey- Programmable teen safety feature can limit the vehicle’s top speed (at 65, 70, 75 or 80 mph) and audio volume to 44 percent of total volume. MyKey also encourages seat belt use by muting the audio system if front occupants aren’t buckled up, and can be programmed to block inappropriate radio content

SYNC- Hands-free communication technology links with a user’s cellular phone and music player so they can more safely make calls and listen to their favorite songs. The 911 Assist feature helps quickly connect drivers directly to a local emergency operator in the event of an accident

Intelligent vehicles- Ford is the first automaker to tour the country with prototypes of “talking vehicles” with advanced Wi-Fi technology that one day could alert drivers of potential collisions they don’t see and reduce traffic congestion and wasted fuel. Intelligent vehicles could potentially help in 81 percent of all police-reported light-vehicle crashes involving unimpaired drivers, according to a NHTSA report.

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