As the deadliest time of year for teenage drivers begins, a new report says that texting and use of social media are on the rise among them as they drive.
Nearly 60 percent of crashes involving teen drivers involve some form of distraction, according to a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and in the 100 days after Memorial Day, teen crashes rise so dramatically that AAA has given those fair-weather months a name: the “100 Deadliest Days.”
“More than any other age group, teen drivers are proportionally involved in a fatal crash where a distraction is reported to be an overarching factor,” said John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Townsend said the AAA foundation, working with researchers at the University of Iowa, analyzed crash videos as a part of their effort to determine the degree to which distraction was a factor.
An average of 1,000 people per year have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the summer months in the past five years, the report said.
“Every day during the summer driving season, an average of 10 people die as a result of injuries from a crash involving a teen driver,” Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA foundation, said in a statement. “This new research shows that distraction continues to be one of the leading causes of crashes for teen drivers. By better understanding how teens are distracted on the road, we can better prevent deaths throughout the 100 Deadliest Days and the rest of the year.”
The report found that in almost 60 percent of teen crashes, the driver was distracted by something in the six seconds leading up to the crashes. In about 12 percent of the cases studied, the distraction was cellphone use. While the percentage of teens in crashes using cellphones has remained about the same since 2007, the researchers found that the manner in which they were using their phones had changed.
“When we looked at how drivers were using the phone, we found a significant decrease in the proportion with drivers talking/listening. However, among cell phone-related crashes only, the proportion that involved a driver operating or looking at the cell phone, as opposed to talking/listening, increased significantly over the years examined,” the report said.
And the researchers linked the reading and sending of text messages to a particular type of crash.
“Importantly, rear-end crashes were associated with an increase in operating/looking at the cell phone as well as an increase in the time spent engaging in this activity,” the report said.
The Pew Research Center has shown that text messaging has become a key component in day-to-day interactions among teenagers, with 55 percent of them doing it daily, sending about 80 text messages a day.
“Many teens are texting or using social media behind the wheel more often than in the past, which is making an unsafe situation even worse,” said Jennifer Ryan, AAA’s director of state relations.
Earlier research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute said texting increases crash risk by 23 times. Another AAA foundation survey found that nearly 50 percent of teen drivers admitted they had read a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that from 2007 to 2014, the percentage of young drivers seen visibly manipulating a handheld device quadrupled.
“Nearly two-thirds of people injured or killed in crashes involving a teen driver are people other than the teen themselves,” Ryan said. “This shows that teen drivers can be a risk to everyone on the road, and it is important to regulate their actions when behind the wheel.”