A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, “Using Naturalistic Driving Data to Examine Teen Driver Behaviors Present in Motor Vehicle Crashes, 2007-2015”, produced important data to examine behaviors and potential contributing factors in the seconds leading up to the automobile collision. The study attempted to identify those crashes that teens are most frequently involved in as well as the distractions or competing activities that are most often being engaged in leading up to these crashes.
Distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes studied, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. According to the report, experts believe that the government statistics derived from police reports substantially underestimate the prevalence of driver distraction.
The study confirmed that nearly 60 percent of teen crashes involve distractions behind the wheel. The research also finds a disturbing trend showing that texting and social media use are on the rise amongst teen drivers.
Crashes for teen drivers increase significantly during the summer months, that are included in the “100 Deadliest Days”, that begin the count on Memorial Day. According to the report, teens drive more during this time of year.
Over the past five years during the “100 Deadliest Days”:
- An average of 1,022 people died each year in crashes involving teen drivers
- The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 16-19 increased by 16 percent per day compared to other days of the year
Of particular interest was the increase in rear-end crashes for the teens in this study, which 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. Other distractions range from eating to looking at a billboard on the side of the road to thinking about a conversation with a friend, really anything that can take a driver’s hands, eyes or mind off the road. For teens, distracted driving has been identified as a particularly large problem. The latest government statistics indicate that, in 2014, 10% of teen drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported to have been distracted at the time of the crash (NHTSA, 2016). Proportionally, this is more than any other age group.
Inexperience, overconfidence, social pressure, a tendency to underestimate risk, and to engage more often in risky behaviors are other factors confronting the teen driver. Any or all may increase the chance of young drivers engaging in distracted driving, and if they do, make it more likely that their distraction will have an unfavorable outcome
The top three distractions for teens when behind the wheel in the moments leading up to a crash:
- Talking or attending to other passengers in the vehicle: 15 percent of crashes
- Talking, texting or operating a cell phone: 12 percent of crashes
- Attending to or looking at something inside the vehicle: 11 percent of crashes
The trend suggests that more research must be conducted in the area of cell phone use and whether technology can be effective in mitigating crashes that involve teens.