Study finds over half of teen car crashes may involve distracted driving

Research suggests that distractions such as cell phones and passengers may contribute to significantly more teen car accidents than previously believed.

As many New York City residents know, young drivers generally have a greater risk of experiencing accidents than other drivers. Here in New York, drivers under age 24 are involved in a disproportionate number of crashes, according to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles. These drivers account for just 12 percent of motorists in the state, but they play a role in 20 percent of all accidents.

Many of these accidents may be attributed to mistakes, misjudgment and general inexperience. However, some may also involve unnecessary and risky behaviors on the part of young drivers. A recent study suggests that distracted driving may be one especially common factor in moderate to severe accidents that involve teen drivers.

Inattention not uncommon

According to The Huffington Post, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 14 percent of teen car accidents are distraction-related. However, a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicates that the true rate of these accidents could be much higher.

During the study, researchers reviewed videos from dashboard cameras that were installed in the vehicles of teen drivers. The researchers looked over about 1,700 videos that were taken just before the teenagers experienced car accidents. Alarmingly, the researchers found that 58 percent of the teen drivers were distracted during the six seconds leading up to each accident.

Top driver distractions

Not surprisingly, cell phones were a common source of distraction, playing a role in 12 percent of the inattention-related crashes. On average, teen drivers who were using cell phones spent 4.1 of the 6.0 seconds before the crash looking at their phones. In half of these accidents, the teens never even responded to the situation by braking or steering.

Cell phone use wasn't the only habit that apparently raised the risk of accidents, however. Researchers also observed the drivers doing the following things just before crashing:

  • Interacting with passengers
  • Looking at items inside or outside of the vehicle
  • Singing or moving along with music
  • Grooming
  • Trying to pick up objects inside the vehicle

Overall, interactions with passengers represented the most common factor in the distracted driving crashes that the researchers reviewed. Teen drivers were focusing on their passengers just before 15 percent of these accidents occurred.

Data from the New York State Department of Health underscores the dangerous effects that passengers can have on a teen driver's focus and performance. The risk of a fatal accident increases 40 percent when a teen drives with another teenage passenger. When a teenage driver has at least three other teens in the car, the same risk increases fourfold. Troublingly, many teens and parents may overlook this danger.

Outlook in New York

Here in New York, teen drivers are legally banned from some of the distractions identified in the study. Like all drivers, teenagers are prohibited from texting while driving or using handheld cell phones for other purposes. During the graduated licensing stage, teens cannot drive with more than one passenger under the age of 21. Still, research shows that the presence of just one passenger may increase the risk of an accident significantly.

Sadly, when teenagers fail to pay adequate attention to driving, other motorists may suffer injuries and devastating long-term consequences. In these situations, accident victims may have recourse, since many forms of distracted driving may constitute negligence. Anyone who has been harmed because of another driver's careless actions should consider discussing potential legal remedies with a car accident attorney.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident