New Study Finds Teens Have Risky Definitions of “Safe Driving”
Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD report a sharp disconnect between teens’ acknowledgment of
dangerous driving behaviors and their actions behind the wheel
BOSTON (March 18, 2014) – Teens know that drinking or using a cell phone while driving are dangerous
behaviors – that’s no surprise. What is surprising is that according to a new survey from Liberty Mutual
Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), teens seem to have a different definition of
what it actually means to engage in these potentially deadly behaviors. From drinking or texting while driving to
using a designated driver, the new survey highlights a sharp disconnect between what teens acknowledge as
risky behavior and what they actually admit to doing behind the wheel.
What is “Under the Influence”?
According to the survey results, teens claim to understand the dangers surrounding drinking and driving:
- The majority (86 percent) of teen drivers consider driving under the influence of alcohol to be extremely
or very distracting
- Only 1 percent of teens define driving under the influence of alcohol as acceptable
- Only 5 percent of teens admit to at least sometimes driving under the influence of alcohol
However, when asked about actual driving behavior involving alcohol, driving “under the influence” takes on a
- One in 10 teens who say they never drive under the influence acknowledge that they occasionally drive
after having an alcoholic beverage
- More than two-thirds of teens (68 percent) who admit to driving under the influence of alcohol say they
have done so after having more than three alcoholic beverages
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with a quarter of fatal crashes involving young
drivers resulting from drinking and driving, these statistics are a reminder that even one drink can be too many.
“While many teens seem to have gotten the message about these driving dangers, the real challenge is to
make sure they understand that even a sip of alcohol or a quick text at a red light can be deadly,” said David
Melton, driving safety expert with Liberty Mutual Insurance and managing director of global safety. “Teens need
to realize it’s not acceptable to put an allowable limit to their engagement in these behaviors – they need to be
eliminated entirely when they are behind the wheel.”
While underage drinking is never acceptable and always illegal, many teens and parents consider a designated
driver to be a safe alternative to impaired driving. In fact, more than half of parents (58 percent) encourage teens
to use designated drivers to avoid driving under the influence, and almost half of teens (47 percent) admit to
However, teens’ definitions of “designated” are concerning:
- Designated Means “Basically Sober”: 21 percent of teens define their designated driver as allowed to
have “a little” alcohol or other drugs, as long as they aren’t too impaired to drive
- Designated Means “Least Impaired”: 4 percent of teens describe their designated driver as the “most”
sober person in the group
“With teens reporting these lax definitions of what it means to be ‘under the influence,’ a zero tolerance
approach is the only answer to prevent potential tragedy,” said Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for
policy, research and education at SADD. “The parents and community have a responsibility to initiate and
maintain an open dialogue with teens about exactly what driving under the influence means.”
Talking and Texting Behind the Wheel
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than 3,300 deaths were reported in 2012 alone as
the result of distracted driving, many attributed to talking or texting on a cell phone. Teens seem to understand
the dangers of these behaviors:
- Nearly all (96 percent) teen drivers understand that using a cell phone while driving – either talking or
texting – is at least slightly distracting
- 62 percent of teen drivers think texting and driving is extremely or very distracting
However, according to the new data, teen drivers often do not grasp the dangers of what it actually means to
use a phone while driving:
- The majority of teen drivers (86 percent) still admit to using a cell phone behind the wheel
- Nearly half (47 percent) of the teen drivers who say they never text while driving still admit to texting at
a red light or stop sign
- 68 percent of teen drivers admit to reading or replying to text messages while driving
“It’s critical not only for teens, but all drivers to understand that any time you pull out your phone when you are
driving, whether you’re moving or at a stoplight, your attention is diverted and you put yourself, passengers and
others on the road at risk,” said Melton. “If you need to use your phone while driving, find a safe place to pull off
the road to make a call or send a text. It’s not worth the risk to respond at a stop sign or before the light turns
Open Discussions Among Parents and Teens
Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD encourage parents to have conversations with their teens about
responsible driving and to sign a Parent/Teen Driving Contract. The customized agreement enables
parents to create and uphold family driving rules. For more information about safe teen driving and to
download a contract, visit www.LibertyMutual.com/TeenDriving.
About the Study
Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD commissioned ORC International to conduct a qualitative and
quantitative methodology to measure teen driving attitudes and behaviors. The study was initiated with a
series of focus groups held in Philadelphia, Pa., and Dallas, Texas from May 29 – May 30, 2013, followed
by a survey of 2,537 eleventh and twelfth graders from across the country. Overall the findings from the
study can be interpreted at a 95 percent confidence interval with an error margin of +/- 1.68 percent. Error
margins for subsets such as licensed drivers will be wider. Additionally, the study surveyed 1,000 parents
of high school aged teenage drivers, providing an overall error margin of +/- 2.94 percent.
SADD, the nation’s leading peer-to-peer youth education, prevention, and activism organization, is
committed to empowering young people to lead initiatives in their schools and communities. Founded in
1981, today SADD has thousands of chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges. SADD
highlights prevention of many destructive behaviors and attitudes that are harmful to young people,
including underage drinking, other drug use, risky and impaired driving, and teen violence and suicide.
To become a Friend of SADD or for more information, visit sadd.org, parentteenmatters.org or follow
SADD on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
About Liberty Mutual Insurance
“Helping people live safer, more secure lives" since 1912, Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance is a
diversified global insurer and the third largest property and casualty insurer in the U.S. based on 2012
direct premiums written as reported by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Liberty
Mutual Insurance also ranks 81st on the Fortune 100 list of largest U.S. corporations, based on 2012
revenue. The company employs over 50,000 people in approximately 900 offices throughout the world.
The sixth-largest auto and home insurer in the U.S., Liberty Mutual (libertymutual.com) sells full lines of
coverage for automobile, homeowners, valuable possessions, personal liability, and individual life
insurance and annuity products. The company is an industry leader in affinity partnerships, offering car
and home insurance to employees and members of more than 14,000 companies, credit unions,
professional associations and alumni groups.
a pdf file.
a Risky Definitions Infographic pdf file.