Study: Teen Distracted Driving Worse Than Previously Thought

Study: Teen Distracted Driving Worse Than Previously Thought

April is Distracted Driving Month, and it appears the problem – identified a significant catalyst for many crashes involving teens in particular – is far worse than previously understood.


The alarming new study was conducted by the American Automobile Association, and revealed 60 percent of all teen driver traffic accidents were caused at least in part due to distracted driving. Prior estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated distraction was a factor in just 15 percent of all teen driver crashes.

What we now know from these videos is that on average, teens take their eyes from the road a full 4 to 6 seconds in the moments leading up tot the crash. Novice drivers who were on a cell phone failed to react at all more than half the time. This is important because it means there were no evasive maneuvers taken – no braking, no steering away – which means the aftermath of the crash was much more severe than it might have otherwise been.

The compelling new research was the result of careful analysis of some 1,700 videos that show the actions of teen drivers seconds before they are involved in a crash or near-crash. Those were captured after the agency affixed video cameras to some 6,850 vehicles, with footage showing simultaneously both the driver and the view out from the front windshield. The 1,700 videos revealed instances of either hard-braking or an actual collision.

The most common forms of distraction were the use of cell phones and talking with passengers. Others included singing/moving to music, adjusting the radio station, reaching for some object in the vehicle, grooming or looking outside the vehicle.

Distraction came into play mostly when drivers were not obeying the speed limit. In fact, in 79 percent of the crashes recorded in this study, the driver was operating the vehicle either above the speed limit or too fast for the climate circumstances. Thirty-six percent of teen drivers who crashed were following another vehicle too closely and another 43 percent failed to yield to another vehicle.

Typically, the types of crashes that were recorded were rear-end accidents or those in which the driver actually ran off the road.

This new data underscores concerns many parents and other motorists have when it comes to teenagers behind the wheel. As it stands, drivers who are between the ages of 16 and 19 have the highest crash rate of any age group. In 2013, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were nearly 965,000 drivers in that age group who were involved in crashes reported to police. There were nearly 2,900 deaths and 383,000 serious injuries.

Study authors say there is much that can be gleaned. The first is that it is critical for states to maintain and even bolster their graduated driver licensing programs and distracted driving laws.

Missouri in particular could use a higher degree of protection for teen drivers. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association report, Missouri only has a text messaging ban that applies to drivers under the age of 21. It’s a primary law, which means officers can stop someone solely for that purpose. However, if the driver is 22 instead of 20, the law doesn’t apply. What’s more, cell phone use is allowed unfettered by drivers of all ages and experience levels.

We fare a bit better in terms of graduated driver’s licensing, which restricts teen nighttime driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. and limits the number of passengers for the first six months to no more than 1 under the age of 19. After the first six months and until the driver reaches the age of 19, they may not have more than three underage passengers in the vehicle with them.

Still, given the severe impact distraction has on young drivers, we believe Missouri legislators could be doing far more to prevent such accidents.

Additional Resources:
AAA study: Distracted driving common cause of teen wrecks, March 25, 2015, By Kelly Eckerman, KMBC-TV Kansas City

More Blog Entries:
Key v. Diamond International – $10 Million Missouri Negligence Verdict Affirmed, Feb. 15, 2015, St. Louis Car Accident Attorney Blog

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Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC

Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC is a litigation law firm that represents individuals and families in serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Missouri. We help people who have been injured in all types of accidents—including car or truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and much more. Whether your injury is something that can cause long-term issues like a brain injury or spinal cord injury, or it is something you’ll likely make a full recovery from, we are here to help.

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