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Teens More Distracted Behind the Wheel Than Previously Believed

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Parents understand their teenagers are likely to get distracted now and then when they’re behind the wheel. But, according to a recent report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the level of distraction is worse than most parents probably imagine.

In fact, the report asserts that the majority of accidents involving teen drivers are caused by driver distraction of some kind.

Auto Accidents #1 Killer of Teens

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teenagers. In 2011, about 2,650 aged 16–19 were killed and nearly 300,000 treated in emergency rooms for serious injuries from auto accidents.

They add that the risk of crashes among teens 16 to 19 is higher than among any other age group—these teens are three times more likely to be in a crash than drivers over the age of 20.

We’ve often attributed statistics like these to inexperience, speeding, alcohol misuse, and risky driving behaviors. In recent years, however, we’ve discovered that distraction plays an even bigger role.

Teens Distracted by Phones and Others in the Vehicle

In January of 2014, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study on teens and driving, in which they concluded that dialing a phone or sending a text message while driving were the distractions most likely to cause an accident for drivers between the ages of 15 and 20. They added that the rates of crashes or near-crashes were 3.9 times as high among newly licensed drivers as the corresponding rates among their parents.

For this more recent study by the AAA, researchers used “DriveCam systems that collect video, audio, and accelerometer data when the driver triggers the device by hard braking, fast cornering, or an impact that exceeds a certain g-force.” Data was collected on nearly 7,000 crashes that occurred between August 2007 and July 2013. Nearly 1,700 crash videos met the criteria for the study, and were analyzed to identify specific factors present at the time of the crashes.

Results showed the following:

• The driver was distracted in 58 percent of the crashes overall.
• The most frequent distraction involved using a cell phone, or interacting with other passengers in the vehicle.
• Drivers looking at a cell phone looked away from the road for an average of 4.1 seconds.
• Failing to yield the right of way, running stop signs, and driving too fast were involved in 66 percent of crashes.
• Males and females were equally likely to have been distracted. In addition to using the phone, singing/dancing to music, personal grooming, and reaching for an object were other types of distraction that preceded crashes.
• Distracting behaviors in general were much more prevalent in this study than in official statistics based on police reports.

The AAA suggested that parents teach teens about the dangers of cell phone use, and restrict passengers while teens are learning to drive. They added that driver education and training should include more education on avoiding long glances away from the roadway.