OMG: Study finds 6 in 10 teen drivers in crashes were distracted

Evidence indicates that distracted driving among teen drivers is a much more serious problem than many people realize, according to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.

The foundation found distractions are a factor in nearly 6 of 10 moderate to severe teen crashes, a number that is four times the official estimates based on police reports.

In nearly 1,700 videos taken from in-vehicle event recorders of teen drivers, distractions were a factor in more than half --  58% --  of the crashes studied by the foundation.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously estimated driving distraction was a factor in only 14% of all teen driver crashes.

Analyzing in-vehicle crash videos

During the study, AAA Foundation researchers analyzed the last six seconds of in-vehicle recorders before crashes involving teen drivers.

Access to crash videos allows better understanding of the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible, said Lloyd P. Albert, senior vice president of public and government affairs for AAA Northeast.

“The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized,” Albert said.

What distracts teen drivers

The research found the most common forms of distraction leading up to a teen’s crash are:

— Interacting with one or more passengers (15% of crashes)

— Cell-phone use (12%)

— Looking at something in the vehicle (10%)
— Looking at something outside the vehicle (9%)

— Singing/moving to music (8%)

— Grooming (6%)

— Reaching for an object in the vehicle (6%)

Eyes not on the road

Researchers found teen drivers who manipulated their cell phones (calling, texting) had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final 6 seconds leading up to a crash.

The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found teen drivers who used a cell phone failed to react more than half the time before the impact, meaning they crashed without braking or steering.
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Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. About 963,000 drivers between ages 16 and 19 were involved in a police-reported crash in 2013, which is the most recent year of available data. These crashes resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.

Graduated driver licensing

Because teen drivers don’t have the experience older drives do behind the wheel to manage unsafe conditions, the AAA Foundation study also shows how important it is for states to review their graduated driver licensing and distracted driving laws to ensure they provide the most protection for teens.

Graduated driver licensing laws allow new drivers to gain practical experience in a relatively safer driving environment by restricting exposure to risky situations. Thirty-three states, including Connecticut, have laws that ban cell-phone use by teen drivers.

Connecticut is one of several states with a comprehensive graduated driver licensing law that prohibits novice teen drivers from using any type of electronic device, including hand-held or hands-free cell phones.

During the first six months after receiving a license, a teen driver in Connecticut can only transport parents or guardians. During the second six months, they are allowed to transport siblings. Violations can result in license suspension and fines.

About the local AAA

The AAA Foundation partnered with researchers at the University of Iowa to conduct the teen driving study.

AAA Northeast is a nonprofit automobile club that serves 5.1 million members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.

AAA stands for American Automobile Association.