Distracted driving and teen crashes, a serious problem

There’s significant evidence distracted driving among teen drivers is a much more serious problem than we realize, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study says.

In what it considers the most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers, the Foundation finds distractions are a factor in nearly 6 of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, a number that is four times as many official estimates based on police reports.

In nearly 1,700 videos taken from in-vehicle event recorders of teen drivers, Foundation researchers analyzed the first six seconds leading up to the crash and discovered that distractions were a factor in more than half -- 58% -- of the crashes they studied. Of this number, 89% the teen drivers were in road-departure crashes while 76% were rear-end crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously estimated driving distraction was a factor in only 14% of all teen driver crashes.

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,  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.

The research found the most common forms of distraction leading up to a teens crash include:

• Interacting with one or more passengers. (This was 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%); and

• Reaching for an object in the vehicle (6%).

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.

The Foundation’s research is important because teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the U.S. About 963,000 drivers between 16 and 19 years of age 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.

Because teen drivers don’t have the experience older drives do behind the wheel to manage unsafe conditions, the AAA 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 (GDL) 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 prevent cellphone use by teens.

Connecticut is one of several states with a comprehensive GDL law which prohibits novice teen drivers from using any type of electronic device including hand held or hands-free cellphones.

During the first six months after receiving a license a teen driver can only transport parents/guardians. During the second six months, they are allowed to transport siblings. Violations may result in some stiff fines including license suspension.

Since parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving, AAA recommends parents restrict passengers and teach teens about distracted driving dangers during the early driving process. For more information, visit TeenDriving.AAA.com.

The full AAA Foundation research report and B-roll video of teen driver crashes is available on the Foundation’s website at aaafoundation.org. The Foundation partnered with researchers at the University of Iowa to conduct this study.

AAA Northeast is a not-for-profit auto club with 60 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Hampshire and New Jersey, providing more than 5.1 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.