Teen Driving Getting Worse, AAA Survey Finds

Driver's Ed Instructors Say Young Motorists Lack Skills

Person driving
Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

The behind-the-wheel skills of young motorists has declined, according to a nationwide AAA survey of driving instructors; and driver’s education instructors say part of the reason is parents.

Driving instructors say parents are less involved in helping their teens learn to drive than they were a decade ago. In addition, parents aren’t always good role models behind the wheel, said Nick Jarmusz, AAA Wisconsin public affairs director.

“So if they see you are not regularly wearing your seatbelt or you’re regularly talking on the phone while driving, they’ll internalize that and think that that’s acceptable, that is safe,” Jarmusz said of children watching their parents drive.

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Distraction is a common mistake driver’s ed teachers see, according to the survey. Not looking for potential hazards on the road is another. And then there’s speeding, Jarmusz said.

“We know, even with the higher speed limits, people are continuing to exceed those limits. So we haven’t simply brought the speed limit up to pace with what people are already doing,” Jarmusz said. “We have begun to push people to drive even faster.”

Jarmusz said speeding is particularly a problem for young drivers because of slower reaction times.

Of the 142 driving instructors surveyed in the AAA study, 65 percent cited a decline in parental involvement, making driving more difficult. Fifty-three percent said drivers in their late teens have the skills of a younger, novice drivers.

Jarmusz said part of the reason for reduced skills in older drivers is a growing trend of teens skipping driver’s ed, because of the cost or other reasons. Others wait until they’re 18 to avoid abiding restrictions placed on teens who have a probationary license. One such restriction is a limit on the number of passengers in the car.

“And it’s really one of the hardest to enforce, to be perfectly honest,” Jarmusz said. “It’s really up to parents to stay engaged and know what their teens are doing. Who’s driving or riding in the car while their teen is driving or if their teen is riding in a car, how many other people are riding with them.”

Jarmusz said AAA would like Wisconsin to expand the length of a learner’s permit during which teens are required to have an adult in the car supervising them. In Wisconsin it’s three months. Jarmusz said many other states require six or nine months of supervised driving.