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Teen Driving Is Parents' Top Worry

teen driving
AP
Teenagers' parents worry more about their kids driving safely than about drug and alcohol abuse or pregnancy, a survey says.

The study, released Thursday, found that a majority of parents were aware their teenagers were driving in higher-risk situations, such as at night or with other teens in the car, and would be willing to enforce guidelines to limit those situations.

Chrysler Group, a division of DaimlerChrysler AG, conducted the national survey. The automaker is teaming with Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the National Safety Council to produce and publicize guidelines for parents as well as a Web-based driving video game for teens that allows players to compete with other teens and get more points if they follow safety rules.

"Clearly parents are concerned. They want to do something," said Michael Berube, a senior manager of safety planning for Chrysler.

The survey, which questioned 400 parents of 15- to 18-year-olds, allowed them to name multiple concerns. Thirty-nine percent said driving safety was one of their top worries. That was higher than the 31 percent who named drug abuse or 17 percent who named alcohol abuse.

Twenty-five percent of parents worried most about car crashes, which was higher than the 13 percent who named pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases and 11 percent who named violent crime.

Eleven percent were concerned about drinking and driving and 6 percent were concerned about speeding. Other worries included illness, peer pressure, war and suicide.

In all, 59 percent of parents said driving-related issues were their No. 1 concern. The nationwide survey was conducted Feb. 26-27 and had a margin of error of plus or minus about 5 percentage points.

The majority of parents — 68 percent — correctly identified car crashes as the leading cause of death for teens. But most parents also said their teens are driving under conditions that are more likely to lead to crashes.

For example, 79 percent of parents allow their teens to drive unsupervised between 9 p.m. and midnight, despite 2001 data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that showed more than half of teen crashes happen at night. Nineteen percent said their teens drive unsupervised between midnight and 6 a.m.

NHTSA data also shows that 63 percent of teen deaths in crashes occur when there are multiple teens in the vehicle. But 67 percent of parents allow their children to drive with more than one other teenager as a passenger.

Seventy percent of parents said their teens listen to loud music while driving and 36 percent said their teens talk on cell phones while driving.

The guidelines suggest that parents adopt rules similar to programs in many states that gradually allow teens more driving freedom as they gain more driving experience. The guidelines, to be distributed at high schools and at Chrysler dealerships, suggest teens be required to complete a driving course and 40 to 50 hours of supervised driving before getting their permanent license. Restrictions on nighttime driving and driving with other teens should continue, the guidelines say, until they are 18.

Ninety-two percent of parents surveyed said they would be likely to adopt the guidelines.

"I think this program has a lot of promise," MADD President Wendy Hamilton said. "We've been working with teens for a long time, but this takes it one step further, and brings in all the latest research."

By Dee-Ann Durbin