May 1, 2005, Updated September 14, 2012

According to the study, if Dad drives angrily and recklessly, there is a higher probability that his son will.If you want your children to become careful and safe drivers, the most important step you can take is to drive safely yourself.

A new research study at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel finds that the driving styles of children closely mimic their parents’ habits.

“Parents may think that they are starting to teach their child to drive safely when they are teenagers. But no less important to the way that teens and young adults end up driving is the way that the parents drive throughout their childhood,” says Dr. Orit Taubman – Ben-Ari, who led the study.

Her research found strong gender link between young drivers – their driving more closely resembled that of the same-sex parent. Boys especially tend to imitate their fathers’ driving style, although the study also found strong similarities between mothers’and daughters’ way of driving. Therefore, according to their data, if Dad drives angrily and recklessly, there is a higher probability that his son will. If Mom is calm and careful, the odds that her daughter will do the same are high.

Taubman – Ben-Ari has spent a career focused on driving behavior, especially among young drivers. Her interest began during her stint in the Israeli army. With a psychology under her belt as part of the army’s program which sends talented students to university before their army service, she joined a special unit in the IDF devoted to road safety management and the prevention of road accidents, there she led the study of road safety, which investigated road accidents in the army, young drivers’ involvement in crashes during their vacations from the army, and investigated methods of prevention.

“It was a unique chance to closely study the behavior of the highest-risk group of drivers – those who are between the ages of 17-21. In Israel, this age group serves in the army. So I had unique access to a group of young drivers for research purposes. It was a great opportunity,” she told ISRAEL21c.

While performing her army service, she pursued her master’s and then her doctorate in psychology, keeping her focus on driving behavior, and it remains a research interest.

There has always been a great deal of research into socio-demographic variables/factors related to reckless driving among various groups, and so the statistics are well known -which age, sex, and social and professional sectors are most likely to drive recklessly and get into accidents.

“I was always interested in a different focus – and that is the ‘why’ of driving habits and accidents – what is going through the driver’s head while driving. I became interested in the motivation for reckless driving how this behavior is learned, becomes normatively accepted and spreads,” Taubman – Ben-Ari explains.

Her doctoral work dealt with how death awareness of drivers affects their willingness to take risks while driving. During the last years, she also investigated the influence of peers and peer messages and how they affect driving habits among young people, and developed a new measure to detect several driving styles.

Her new study reflects an interest in the highly influential factor of parents, surveying children and parents from approximately 174 families in Israel.

Parents who described themselves as anxious or reckless drivers were more likely to have children who described themselves similarly, while children whose parents said they had cautious habits also described themselves as safe drivers.

Previous research conducted in the US has found that children whose parents have been convicted of traffic offenses are more likely to have committed an offense themselves, compared with the children of parents with a clean record.

But the research led by Taubman – Ben-Ari was the first that examined self-reports (their own descriptions of their driving) regarding a wide range of driving styles, and reached a more comprehensive picture of that phenomenon.

Questionnaires were distributed to the younger generation of drivers in various high schools, colleges and universities in Israel, and in the community. They were also asked to have their parents complete the questionnaires. The complete sample, whose results were carefully analyzed, included 238 mothers and daughters and 237 fathers and sons.

The researchers asked the young people and their parents to report on their driving style, on a 44-item questionnaire. Their responses were analyzed and computed into four possibilities (a) reckless and careless (b) anxious (c) angry and hostile (d) patient and careful

The reckless and careless driving style includes deliberate violations of safe driving norms, and seeking sensations and thrill while driving. It characterizes persons who drive at high speeds, race cars, pass other cars in prohibited-passing zones, and drive while intoxicated, which probably endangers themselves and others. The anxious driving style includes feelings of alertness and tension as well as ineffective engagement in relaxing activities during driving.

The angry and hostile driving style refers to expressions of irritation, rage, and hostile attitudes and acts while driving, and reflects a tendency to act aggressively on the road – cursing, blowing the horn, or ‘flashing’ to other drivers. The patient and careful driving style reflects a well-adjusted driving style, and refers to planning ahead, paying attention, patience, politeness, keeping calm while driving and obeying traffic rules.

From the responses, the researchers found clearly that driving styles are likely shaped within the family years before a driver even takes the wheel, and reveals that parents’ negative driving styles are modeled and adopted by their offspring.

The strongest link was made between fathers and sons. A father’s anxious, reckless, and careful driving styles were directly reflected in the son’s specific styles. If a father described his style as reckless or angry, his son had a far higher probability of doing the same. Moreover, when the father tended to drive more carefully, his son tended to drive less recklessly and aggressively.

The relationships with daughters was similar. Mother’s anxious and reckless driving styles were directly reflected in daughter?’anxious and reckless styles. Girls whose mothers described themselves as careful drivers were much less likely to possess an anxious or reckless style themselves.

The Bar-Ilan team reached the conclusion that because driving is observed and internalized by the child and not directly taught until adolescence, the same gender parent serves as a crucial role model for future driving styles.

“If a parent drives recklessly or is careless about safety norms like putting the kids in a car seat, they should expect that their children will absorb those norms,” said Taubman – Ben-Ari. “There is an important message to parents here: you can’t expect to tell kids at 16 how to drive. You are the model throughout their lives. It is an important message. Our words don’t mean anything if our actions negate this.”

She stressed that a careful parent driver was no guarantee of a careful child driver. As a group, the children drove more recklessly and with less care than their parents. But the parents behavior clearly had either a moderating or a worsening effect on their children.

Further research, she believes, is needed.

Other risky behavior that is also frequently handed down from parent to same-sex child – such as drinking and smoking, has been researched far more extensively. But until now, unlike other behaviors like drugs and alcohol ‘parents’role in providing driving habits to their children attracted little attention in studies on reckless driving.

In this respect, the current study made a preliminary, but an important step forward – in its conclusion, it suggests that “in future studies more realistic measures, such as driving simulators or driving observations should be designed to assess driving styles and behaviors… to discern the impact of parenting on offspring reckless driving.”

Taubman – Ben-Ari also suggests that current methods of driver education might need to be rethought as a result of the research.

In most countries, the first step in acquiring a driver’s license involves a period of parental supervision.

“Although many scholars pointed out the effectiveness of increasing parental involvement in adolescents’ early driving experiences as a promising way of increasing responsible driving and reducing the number of risky driving behaviors, traffic violations, and crashes among adolescent, at least some of the parents may be the source and a model for learning reckless driving,” her study says, concluding “Education programs for young drivers should not necessarily rely on parents – because if they are reckless drivers themselves, their ability to influence their child is limited.”

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