The generation raised with handheld video games and scrolling text at the bottom of the television screen are routinely distracted while driving, according to national research.
The AAA Foundation installed video cameras in vehicles piloted by teenage drivers across the nation in an unprecedented study that captured driving habits and investigated crashes.
“The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized,” said Peter Kissinger, president of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Researchers determined the trend by studying video from more than 1,700 crashes from cameras mounted inside vehicles. They focused on the final seconds before impact and found distraction was a factor for teens 58 percent of the time.
Teen drivers had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 of the final six seconds leading up to a crash when a cell phone proved to be the distraction. Researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and learned teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, which means they crashed without braking or steering.
The figures represent a staggering increase from what researchers predicted. The foundation initially estimated only 14 percent of collisions with teenage drivers involved distraction of some kind.
Communicating with their passengers caused an accident 15 percent of the time, the foundation reported, while 12 percent of collisions were because the driver was on a cell phone. Grooming, singing along to music and reaching for an item were other common distractions for teens.
“Passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “These factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers. 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.”
Teenage drivers account for the highest crash rate of any group in the nation. About 963,000 drivers age 16 to 19 were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013, which is the most recent year of available data. These incidents resulted in 383,000 injuries and nearly 2,900 deaths.
The AAA Foundation recommends parents educate teens about the dangers of cell phone use and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive process. Before parents begin practice driving with teens, they should create strict ground rules related to distraction. For more information, visit TeenDriving.AAA.com.