Research Reveals Number of Teen Driver Crashes, Caused by Distraction, is Worse than Traffic Experts Thought
The most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers has found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely much more serious a problem than previously known, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The unprecedented video analysis finds that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports.
Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NHTSA previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.
“The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized,” said Don Redman, AAA Louisiana public affairs specialist.
The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:
• 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: 9 percent of crashes
• Singing/moving to music: 8 percent of crashes
• Grooming: 6 percent of crashes
• Reaching for an object: 6 percent of crashes
Teen driver distractions are 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.
Researchers found that drivers manipulating their cell phone (includes calling, texting or other uses), had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning they crashed without braking or steering.
AAA recommends that state laws prohibit cell phone use by teen drivers and restrict passengers to one non-family member for the first six months of driving.
“Louisiana has addressed one key AAA recommendation by prohibiting cell phone use by teen drivers and making it a primary offense,” Redman said. “However, Louisiana’s passenger restriction law needs strengthening and this study shows why.”
Current Louisiana law restricts the number and ages of passengers for novice drivers under the age of 17, but lacks any provision for novice drivers getting their unrestricted licenses for the first time at age 17. AAA recommends a minimum 6-month restriction on teen passengers as a precondition to full licensure for all teen drivers.
Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws allow new drivers to gain practical experience in a relatively safe environment by restricting their exposure to risky situations. Thirty-three states have laws that prevent cell phone use for teens and 18 states have passenger restrictions meeting AAA’s recommendations.
Parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving. AAA recommends that parents teach teens about the dangers of cell phone use and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive process. Before parents begin practice driving with teens, they should create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distraction. AAA offers a comprehensive driver education program, where teens can learn specifically how using a cell phone affects driving abilities and increases their crash risk. For more information, visit TeenDriving.AAA.com