AAA Foundation study reveals distraction still a major cause of crashes for teen drivers

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Over the past five years, more than 5,000 people have been killed in the USA in crashes involving teenage drivers during the ‘100 Deadliest Days’, the period starting at Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), when teen crash deaths historically climb, with distractions being a primary cause.

As the summer driving season begins, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is releasing a follow-up study confirming that nearly 60% 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 among teenage drivers. The number of crashes by teen drivers increases significantly during the summer because teens drive more at this time of year.

Over the past five years, an average of 1,022 people died each year in crashes involving teen drivers. This year’s new follow-up report from the AAA Foundation is part of the most comprehensive eight-year research project ever conducted into crash video footage of teen drivers accidents.

In collaboration with researchers at the University of Iowa, the AAA Foundation analyzed the moments leading up to a crash in more than 2,200 videos captured from in-car dash cameras in cars driven by teenagers. The latest report compared these new crash videos from 2013-2015 with those captured from 2007-2012, and found consistent trends in the top three distractions for teens in the moments leading up to a crash:

• Talking to or attending to other passengers in the vehicle – 15% of crashes

• Talking on, texting on or operating a cell phone – 12% of crashes

• Attending to or looking at something inside the vehicle – 11% of crashes.

Researchers also found that the manner in which teens use their cell phone when behind the wheel changed significantly over the course of the study. In the moments leading up to a crash, teens were more likely to be texting or looking down at the phone than talking on it.

This supports findings by Pew Research Center, based in Washington DC, which show text messaging has become a key component of day-to-day interactions among teenagers and that 55% of teens spend time every day texting, sending an estimated 80 text messages per day.

“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,” said Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “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.”

Jennifer Ryan, AAA director of state relations, commented, “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. Nearly two-thirds of people injured or killed in crashes involving a teen driver are people other than the teen themselves.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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