Distracted Driving Puts Teen Drivers at Greatest Risk, AAA Study Finds

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A new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that most teen crashes involve driving distractions.

Perhaps the greatest danger faced by teen drivers is distracted driving. According to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS), distractions play a role in 60 percent of all teen crashes. Even more dramatically, distractions play a role in 11 percent of all teen fatalities.

Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of AAAFTS, was emphatic when he comment that the study “provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized.

NHTSA numbers far lower

The new study varies greatly with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Safety regulators say that distraction played a role in 14 percent of teen crashes and not the 60 percent the AAA has found.

The AAAFTS study was based on an analysis was based on real-world findings. Using 1,700 in-vehicle event recorders, the study measure the last six seconds of data measured for each incident. In exact terms, the study found that teens were distracted 58 percent of the time. More specifically, the study found that distraction was involved in 89 percent of road-departure accidents and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. (Road-departure accidents are those in which the vehicle left the roadway for one reason or another.)

Kissinger said that because AAFTS had access “to crash videos has allowed us to better understand the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible. The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized.”

Forms of distraction

The study found the most common forms of distraction were:

• Interacting with one or more passengers – 15 percent of crashes

• Cell phone use — 12 percent of crashes

• Looking at something in the vehicle – 10 percent of crashes

• Looking at something outside the vehicle – nine percent of crashes

• Singing/moving to music – 8 percent of crashes

• Grooming – six percent of crashes

• Reaching for an object – six percent of crashes

“It is troubling that passengers and cellphones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” Bob Darbelnet, AAA CEO said. “The situation is made worse by the fact that young drivers have spent less time behind the wheel and cannot draw upon their previous experience to manage unsafe conditions.

Cellphones are distracting

Researchers found that teen drivers manipulating their cellphones – including calling, texting and other uses – had their eyes off the road an average of 4.1 of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teens using cellphones failed to react more than half of the time before an impact, in other words, they crashed without braking or steering.

“This study shows how important it is for states to review their graduated driver licensing and distracted driving laws to ensure they provide as much protection as possible for teens,” Darbelnet continued. “AAA recommends that state laws prohibit cellphone use by teen drivers and restrict passengers to one non-family member for the first six months of driving.

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Marc Stern has spent more than 40 years in and around cars. His work has included answering motorist questions, motor vehicle reviews and evaluation and writing dealers, consumer and industry news pieces. In addition, Mr. Stern has contributed to well-known automotive publications including Popular Mechanics, Mechanix Illustrated, AutoWeek and Old Cars Weekly, among others.

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