Is Bad Driving Hereditary?

“I’m not a bad driver!” is a comment that no doubt many of us will have made in our lifetimes, perhaps after being challenged by a tricky backseat driver or an anxious passenger.

The debates over the best and worst drivers in each family, relationship or friendship group are something that will no doubt continue for many years to come. Comparing how quickly we passed our driving tests, the number of minor faults we incurred, or the number of penalty points on our licences are all common ways to try and defend our own driving abilities.

Often the debate lies between parents and their children, particularly in the case of younger drivers who are perhaps slightly over-confident in their driving abilities, which made us think – can bad driving be hereditary?

We wanted to find out, so we’ve surveyed more than 1,000 drivers to compare their driving records to those of their parents and find out if there’s any correlation in bad driving habits between parents and their children.

A young driver with his hands on the steering wheel while his dad, standing outside the car, instructs him

How do our driving records compare to those of our parents?

Although many of us think we’re good drivers and act safely when behind the wheel of our vehicles, in reality, the number of drivers exhibiting ‘bad’ driving behaviours may be worse than we think. According to our survey, a third (33%) of younger drivers have been pulled over by the police in the last 10 years, with a further 3 in 10 (30%) having participated in a speed awareness course, and more than a quarter (27%) have received penalty points on their licence.

However, when asked the same about their parents, the older generation was revealed to be even more at fault, with 36% having been pulled over by the police, 36% receiving penalty points and 37% taking part in a speed awareness course.

Penalty points27%36%
Speed awareness course30%37%
Pulled over by the police33%36%

It’s said that practice makes perfect, but perhaps this isn’t the case with driving – our findings hinting that we potentially become more complacent and sloppy with our manoeuvres over time, leading to more scrapes with the law.

Looking at penalty points specifically, more of the younger generation are points-free than their parents, with three quarters (75%) saying they have clean licences, while just over 3 in 5 (62%) of their parents can say the same.

Though looking at driving test passes, the parents tend to have a higher first-time pass rate, with 3 in 5 (59%) passing on their first attempt, compared to 2 in 5 (42%) of their children.

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Are ‘bad’ drivers more likely to have parents who are also ‘bad’ drivers?

Although at a glance, it may appear as though children are generally better drivers than their parents, when we drill down into the data, all is not as it may first seem.

Assessing drivers on three main ‘bad’ driving behaviours, including being pulled over by the police, participating in speed awareness courses and receiving penalty points, it was revealed that those with parents who have committed ‘bad’ behaviours, are significantly more likely to have also done so themselves. Two-thirds (66%) of those who fall into the ‘bad’ habits group have been raised by parents who have also fallen foul of the law in the last ten years, in comparison to just a quarter (26%) of those who were raised by law abiding drivers.

Offence committed by driverWhen parent has committed ‘bad’ behavioursWhen parent has not committed ‘bad’ behaviours
Penalty points37%12%
Speed awareness course42%11%
Pulled over by the police45%14%

More than 4 in 10 (42%) of those who have had to take part in a speed awareness course have parents who have been involved in ‘bad’ driving behaviours – though this number gets even higher, at more than half (51%) when their parents have also had to attend a speed awareness course in the last ten years. Looking at those whose parents haven’t broken any road rules, the numbers are significantly lower, with just 11% having taken part in one of the courses.

This is also shown through the average points received by parents and their children, with drivers who are the children of road rule breaking parents likely to have at least one point on their licence, in comparison to those with parents who stick to the rules, who tend to also have clean licences themselves. Furthermore, more than 1 in 10 (12%) of drivers whose parents have exhibited ‘bad’ driving behaviours were found to have four or more points on their licence, in comparison to just 3% of those who grew up accompanying parents who were more law-abiding behind the wheel.

When it comes to being pulled over by the police, the numbers are again significantly higher for children of ‘bad’ habit parents, with 45% of those who said they’ve found themselves with flashing lights in their rear-view mirrors part of this group, in comparison to the 14% whose parents have been squeaky clean. Though again, if parents have been pulled over by the police, there is significant correlation with the same happening for their children – a whopping 3 in 5 (60%) of those who’ve had to pull over for the police, said that their parents have too.

Police siren flashing blue lights at accident or crime scene

Do we attribute our bad driving habits to our parents?

Often when we’re learning to drive, our parents may give us some lessons, or accompany us while we practice in their vehicles – both of which can often result in some questionable teaching in comparison to that we receive from professional instructors.

It’s only natural that we pick up some shortcuts that may not be quite by the book throughout our driving careers, but learning from parents can in some cases result in these being passed down without us really noticing. Likewise, simply being a passenger in our parents’ vehicles from a young age can also lead to us subconsciously absorbing things from being in that environment.

Overall, more than a quarter (26%) of drivers agreed with the statement “I have learnt negative driving habits from my parents”, with younger drivers (17-24) agreeing with this the most, with 42% thinking that their parents are to blame for at least some of their poor habits.

Of the habits that they think they’ve unwittingly picked up from their parents along the way, speeding comes out on top, with more than half (55%) of drivers citing their parents as the reason for their rapid driving. Road rage follows as the second most-learnt behaviour with almost half (49%) crediting their parents for this habit, and poor spatial awareness (24%) following in third place.

RankNegative driving habit% who have learnt habit from their parents
2Road Rage49%
3Poor spatial awareness (e.g. driving within a lane)24%
4Poor or careless parking21%
5Dangerous driving (e.g. cutting in front of another driver)17%
6Driving too carefully (e.g. driving significantly below the speed limit)10%

On the other hand, those who are ‘good’ drivers, who haven’t fallen foul of the law in the last 10 years, tended to disagree with the idea that they’d inherited bad driving habits from their parents, with just 15% agreeing with the statement. Interestingly, of the negative behaviours that they had said they’ve inherited, road rage was the behaviour that they feel has been passed down to them the most, with more than half (55%) sharing this thought.

Have we learnt any good habits from our parents?

Although we may think our parents have taught us many negative driving habits, they have almost certainly taught us some positive habits too. Ensuring to always indicate when required is the top habit that drivers said they’ve picked up from their parents, with almost half (46%) attributing their folks for their signalling skills. Nearly 2 in 5 (38%) said that staying calm behind the wheel was learnt from their parents, while 36% said the same of driving within the speed limit.

RankPositive driving habit% who have learnt habit from their parents
1Always indicating when required46%
2Staying calm behind the wheel38%
3Driving within the speed limit36%
4Not hogging a lane on the motorway35%
5Letting other drivers out at a junction33%
6Knowing what all road signs mean33%

However, despite our parents teaching us both good and bad habits behind the wheel, more than half (55%) of drivers surveyed think that they are better drivers than their parents. In particular, the younger generation (17-24s) believe this the most, with 3 in 5 (59%) firm in the belief that they’re better behind the wheel. Though this is often chalked down to ‘blind confidence’ among young drivers that are new to the roads, as the rest of our research shows, children are actually generally better drivers than their parents.

Although our research also proves that bad driving definitely is hereditary, that isn’t reason enough to be driving dangerously. Whether your parent is a bad driver or not, it’s important to always take care when behind the wheel and abide by road laws to avoid putting either yourself or others in danger, and your car in the scrap heap.


Scrap Car Comparison partnered with Censuswide to survey 1,002 drivers aged 17+ (50/50 split on those who have taken part in ‘bad’ driving behaviours and those who have not). Each driver was asked a series of questions, covering both their own driving behaviours, those of their parents and their thoughts around negative and positive driving habits.

‘Bad’ driving was defined by whether or not the motorist had been pulled over by the police, participated in a speed awareness course or received penalty points on their licence, within the last ten years.

Survey conducted in March 2023.

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