The likelihood of a teen driver getting into a collision because of distractions from cell phones, music players, and the like, is far greater than previously believed according to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Researchers at the University of Iowa analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle recording devices. 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. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, previously estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen crashes.
The video analysis found that distraction was a factor in nearly six out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes.
Passengers and cell phones can serve as distractions and those distractions pose a greater risk to teen drivers because they haven't been driving for very long and don't possess the experience to manage unsafe conditions. For example, many of the videos show the teen drivers veering off the road because of inattention and once the realize they have gone off course, they overcorrect, often causing them to lose control or veer across multiple lanes of traffic.
Teens are already among the riskiest drivers on the road, crashing four times more often than adult drivers do. Vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among people age 16 to 20 years, killing more than 5,600 teens each year, according to AAA research.
Among the key findings in the study were that drivers manipulating their cell phone (calling, texting or other uses) had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 seconds out of the final 6 seconds leading up to the crash. Researchers also measured reaction time in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before impact, meaning they crashed without braking or steering.
"Parents can play a vital role in preventing their teens from engaging in distracted driving and learning to be a safe driver," said Cynthia Harris, AAA Northern California spokesperson. "Before parents begin practice driving with their teen, they should create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distracted driving."
AAA offers help for parents of young drivers at TeenDriving,AAA.com. There, parents can find a comprehensive driver education program, where teens can learn specifically how using a cell phone affects driving abilities and increases crash risk.
California prohibits drivers from texting, or using a handheld cell phone while driving unless it is a hands-free device. The law only allows a driver to use a cell phone to make emergency calls to law enforcement, a medical provider, the fire department, or other emergency services agencies. The fine for a first time texting or cell phone violation will cost a minimum of $162. The fine amount increases with each subsequent violation.
"Distracted driving is the traffic safety challenge of our generation," said Dr. Kelly Browning, executive director of ITD said in a press release.
To refrain from falling victim to distracted driving, the California Highway Patrol encourages all drivers to put their cell phones away while driving. Other tips include: do not eat or drink while driving, do not program your electronic devices while driving, pull over and stop to read maps, and refrain from personal grooming, reading, or watching videos.
If something falls to the floor, pull over to a safe location before trying to retrieve it.