Distracted driving contributes to 58 percent of automobile crashes involving teen drivers, according to an analysis of nearly 1,700 crash videos studied by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
That number is four times previous estimates that were based on police reports, the foundation said.
“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 Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation. “The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized.”
The analysis counted a half-dozen types of distraction that caused crashes, led by interacting with other passengers, which was blamed for 15 percent of crashes. Cellphone use resulted in 12 percent of the crashes, followed by looking at something inside the car, looking at something outside other than the road ahead, singing or moving to music, grooming and reaching for something.
“It is troubling that passengers and cellphones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” said Bob Darbelnet, chief executive officer of AAA. “The situation is 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.”
The study used videos from an in-car system many families install in the vehicles of young drivers to keep track of their movements and driving habits. It collects video, audio and acceleration data when the driver triggers the device by braking hard, taking a corner fast or receiving a hard impact. The 12-second video provides data on the eight seconds before and four seconds after the trigger. The system, made by Lytx, also is used by more than 500 commercial and government fleets.
The company provided researchers 6,842 videos of crashes involving drivers ages 16 to 19 between August 2007 and July 2013. After eliminating minor incidents, the number was winnowed down to 1,691 moderate-to-severe crashes that were analyzed for the study.
The research found that calling, texting or other mobiledevice use distracted teen drivers for an average of 4.1 seconds in the final six seconds before a crash impact. When teen drivers caused rear-end collisions, more than half the time they crashed without braking or attempting to steer to avoid the collision, the report said.
Teens have the highest crash and auto insurance rates in the nation. In 2013, federal data shows that about 963,000 drivers between the ages 16 to 19 were involved in crashes. The crashes caused 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.
“This research is a call to action to reframe the distracted driving issue, especially as it relates to teens,” said Jonathan Adkins, director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Distracted driving is broader than just texting. In fact, interacting with passengers led to more distraction-related crashes than cellphone use. This reinforces the need for states to pass better passenger restrictions as part of their graduated driver licensing program, and for parents to limit the teen passengers that can ride with their new driver, regardless of the law.”
Darbelnet agreed that the report underscored the importance of graduated driver licensing, which requires young drivers to develop their driving skills before they receive full driving privileges.
“AAA recommends that state laws prohibit cellphone use by teen drivers and restrict passengers to one non-family member for the first six months of driving,” Darbelnet said.
The District, Maryland and Virginia all have graduated driver’s license programs and restrictions on mobile device use by teenagers.
“These results are troubling because previous research has indicated that teen passengers and cellphone use can increase the crash risk for teen drivers,” said AAA spokesman John B. Townsend II, one of the auto club’s Mid-Atlantic staff members who lobbied in support of the region’s graduated-license program and for restrictions on mobile device use.