Teenagers & Distracted Driving
A recent study has revealed that teenage drivers are easily distracted—resulting in motor vehicle crashes. The study states that teenagers multi-task at higher frequency rates, including dialing cell phones, eating, and talking to passengers, and therefore greatly raise their risk of motor vehicle accidents. These findings from the study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development appear in the January 2, 2014 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Charlie Klauer, group leader for teen risk and injury prevention at the transportation institute’s Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety and first author of the article, said: “Novice drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk secondary tasks more frequently over time as they became more comfortable with driving.”
Traffic studies reveal that drivers from 15 years to 20 years of age represent 6.4% of all motorists on the road, but account for 11.4% of fatalities and 14% of police-reported crashes resulting in injuries. Cell phones and other electronic devices have garnered the most public and media interest, but even the simplest distractions can put a young driver at risk.
In the New England Journal of Medicine study, titled “Distracted Driving and Risk of Crashes Among Novice and Experienced Drivers,” Dr. Klauer and her research team found that likely dangerous distractions for new drivers, versus experienced motorists, include handling of a cell phone to dial or text, reaching away from the steering wheel, looking at something alongside the road, and eating. All these acts were statistically significant as a distraction for the new drivers. Dr. Klauer said:
“Any secondary task that takes the novice driver’s eyes off the road increases risk. A distracted driver is unable to recognize and respond to road hazards, such as the abrupt slowing of a lead vehicle or the sudden entrance of a vehicle, pedestrian, or object onto the forward roadway.”
Dr. Klauer and her team compared the results of a one-year, 100-car study with drivers between 18 and 72 years of age with an average of 20 years’ experience and an 18-month study of 42 teens who had drivers’ licenses for less than three weeks when the study began. Participants from both studies drove vehicles outfitted with the same data acquisition systems, including a minimum of four cameras and a suite of sensors that collected continuous video and driving performance data for the duration of both studies. Dr. Klauer observed:
“This study is first report of its kind to objectively assess the degree to which engagement in tasks other than driving contributes to novice drivers’ crashes and near-crashes, and to compare the results to the impact of such distractions on more veteran drivers. The publication of a traffic-related study in the New England Journal of Medicine is a natural fit. We are working on preventing the leading cause of death in people under 35 years old, crashes. We’re working toward the same goals as a medical research institute, but along a different pathway.”