According to a joint study recently conducted by Toyota Motor Sales and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, a parent's bad driving habits could be transferred to their teenagers when they begin driving.

The national study of teen drivers showed there was a significant correlation between parent and teen behaviors behind the wheel, revealing that parents might want to be more cautious when their kids are watching.

The joint study was based on national telephone surveys of more than 5,500 young drivers and parents, including interviews with 400 pairs of teenagers and parents who were living in the same household.

"Driver education begins the day a child's car seat is turned around to face front," said Tina Sayer, CSRC Principal Engineer and teen safe driving expert. "As the Study shows, the actions parents take and, by extension, the expectations they set for young drivers each day are powerful factors in encouraging safe behavior behind the wheel.  Seat belts and good defensive driving skills are critical."

Sayer added that she would advise parents to always be the driver that they would like for their teenager to be, which could save their lives and make for safer drivers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. In 2010, seven teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 died every day on average from motor vehicle accidents.

"Children look to their parents for a model of what is acceptable," said Ray Bingham, research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and head of the Young Driver Behavior and Injury Prevention Group. "Parents should know that every time they get behind the wheel with their child in the car they are providing a visible example that their child is likely to follow. By examining the willingness of U.S. parents and teens to engage in high-risk driving behaviors, this study will inform programs that help reduce distracted driving and the non-fatal injuries and death that it causes."

Findings of the study
The study was sponsored by Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center and was conducted to reveal how frequently discussed driving risks can play a major role in the safety of teen drivers on the road. The study also examined the range of risk factors that could receive less public attention but still be a significant threat to the safety of drivers on the road.

An additional finding of the study was that it mattered more what teenagers think their parents do behind the wheel as opposed to what their parents say they do. If a teenager has the opinion that their parent looks for something in their vehicle while driving, the teenager is four times more likely to also look for items in the car while driving, which could create a distracted driving risk.

Also, if a teenager thinks their parent eats or drinks while driving, the teenager is three times more likely to engage in the same behavior.

Text messaging while driving has also been a topic frequently discussed by parents and their teenage drivers. Teens read or send text message once a trip 26 times more often than their parents think they do and more than a quarter of teens read or send text messages at least once every time they drive.

Considering the dangers of distracted driving, motorists should make sure they have cars with great handling performance, as it is necessary when navigating the roads. Also, purchasing a car that has hands-free capabilities could be helpful.