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AAA Study - Teen Distracted Driving Even Riskier than Previously Thought

Mar 30, 2015

A study by the American Automobile Association reveals that distracted driving by teenagers is even riskier than previously thought, especially when the young driver is multitasking with a cellphone.

The research, published last week, is based on video evidence from cars driven by 16 to 19 years olds, The New York Times reports. Video cameras in the young drivers' cars gave researchers a view of the drivers' actions before nearly 1,700 crashes. The videos showed that time after time the young driver's attention is diverted from the road by a device. The driver is jolted back to reality when the car crashes into another car or careens off the road.

The study was published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and the videos will be made public, the Times reports. The researchers found that distraction was the cause of about 60 percent of moderate and severe crashes, which is four times as many as some previous government estimates.

Cellphones—involved in 12 percent of those crashes— were the second-highest risk factor. Interaction with passengers, shown as a cause in 15 percent of the wrecks, was the leading distraction. With cellphones, manipulating the device took the driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 seconds in the six seconds before a crash, making the driver, in effect, blind to road conditions, according to the Times. In about half of the rear-end collisions, a teenage driver using a cellphone failed to react at all in the seconds before the crash. The teenage drivers' average reaction time was slower when they were on a phone (2.8 seconds) than when they were interacting with passengers (2.1 seconds).

These findings are largely consistent with previous studies on the nature and risks of distracted driving, though the new report adds valuable video evidence. The findings underscore the risks for teenage drivers, but also show that no driver, even an adult driver with more experience behind the wheel, can simultaneously have their attention on both a device and the road.

Policy makers and safety advocates are grappling with the challenge of convincing drivers of every age of the serious risk of using a device while driving. Most people say that using a cellphone while driving, particularly for texting, is dangerous, but many do it nonetheless. Safety experts say this "do as I say, not as I do" attitude has been difficult to change. Cellphones are ubiquitous and many teenagers are in the habit of responding instantly to messages. In addition, phones are constantly adding new capabilities for entertainment, business and social uses, and people wish—and feel they need—to always be connected, even when driving.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety advocates that any cellphone use in a car should be prohibited for teenage drivers, and further, that laws should restrict the number of passengers in the car "to one nonfamily member for the first six months of driving," according to the Times.


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