By Greg Webb, March 27, 2015
The number one reason teens get distracted and have automobile accidents is interacting with a passenger. Interacting with a passenger is a form of distracted driving. (Distracted driving is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the priority of safely operating the vehicle). Texting while driving (or using a phone) is not the only type of distracted driving. A study just released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found, “Distracted driving contributes to 58 percent of automobile crashes involving teen drivers.”
Using video cameras, placed in family cars with teen-aged drivers, the study analyzed 6,842 videos of crashes involving teen drivers, ages 16 to 19, over a six-year period. Researchers focused on 1,691 crashes, ranked as moderate-to-severe. They identified six types of distractions that caused the crashes. Interacting with other passengers ranked first, causing 15% of the accidents. Cellphone use was responsible in 12% of the crashes, followed by looking for something in the car, looking around outside instead of focusing on the road, singing or moving to music, grooming, and reaching for something. (Washington Post, 3/25/15)
There are three types of distracted driving: 1) manual – hands off wheel; 2) visual – eyes off road ; and 3) cognitive – focused on something other than safe operation of the car, or being impaired. Interacting with a passenger likely includes visual and cognitive, and may include manual depending upon what the teen is doing.
The study supports the campaign to limit or ban texting in cars, but it also points out other types of situations that distract teens when driving.
According to the CDC, “The risk of motor vehicle crashes is higher among 16- to 19-year-olds than among any other age group. In fact, per mile driven, teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are nearly three times more likely than drivers aged 20 and older to be in a fatal crash.”
The CDC noted that roughly seven teens, ages 16-19, died every day from automobile crashes in 2011. The Washington Post reports 963,000 accidents for this age group in 2013, resulting in 383,00 injuries and 2,865 deaths. (Washington Post, 3/25/15)
“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.”
Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia all have graduated driver’s license guidelines and restrictions on cell phone use. Limiting teen driving for new drivers is a good way to help reduce crashes. It allows teens to gain more experience behind the wheel, hopefully teaching them to become more responsible drivers. But parents have to do their part as well by setting an example—putting our cellphones away while driving. Parents can establish their own rules and guidelines for newly licensed teens, which should include no cellphone use while driving and no teen passengers. These are scary statistics; something none of us can afford to ignore. They also have the added benefit of substantiating what we may have guessed from a common sense standpoint. Having identified the problem, we must now identify and implement solutions.