AAA study reveals high rate of distracted driving among teens

Published: April 1, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Callum Micucci

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A study by a leading American traffic research organization has found that distracted driving among teens may be more of a problem than previously thought.

In a study released in March 2015 by the American Automobile Association (AAA) Foundation, researchers found that in 1,691 crashes involving 16-19 year olds, the driver was distracted in almost 60 per cent of cases.

“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 and CEO of the AAA Foundation, in a press release.

The release of the American study coincides with the London Police Service’s crackdown on unsafe driving, where police issued 87 of 147 total tickets and 12 of 38 warnings for distracted driving. The rest of the offences were seatbelt violations, aggressive driving, and impaired driving.

According to the study, “the two most frequently seen driver behaviours [in the lead up to a crash] were attending to passengers (14.9 per cent) and cell phone use (11.9 per cent).”

A video accompanying the study shows a few examples of teens crashing or losing control due to distractions. Teens participating in a teen driving program allowed special cameras (called DriveCams) to be installed in their vehicles that record “events” while they’re driving: hard braking, fast cornering, or impacts that exceed certain g-forces (in order to eliminate small curb hits being recorded). The cameras trigger when any of these events happen, and record eight seconds before and four seconds after the trigger.

The results are somewhat harrowing, showing instances of teen drivers leaving the road (“road-departure crashes”) and spinning out. In one clip, the driver narrowly misses a vehicle parked on the shoulder, spins out, and narrowly misses a passing tractor-trailer.

Some of the numbers in the study are staggering: the “mean eyes-off-road times were four seconds for road departure crashes, 2.5 seconds for rear-end crashes, 0.7 seconds for angles crashes, and 0.5 seconds for loss-of-control (LOC) crashes.” This shows that it can take less than a second for you to have a crash if your eyes are somewhere other than the road.

Furthermore, “when cell phone use was analyzed separately, the average eyes-off-road time for drivers who were operating or looking at their phone was 4.1 seconds, compared to 0.9 seconds for drivers who were talking or listening.”

“It is troubling that passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of the AAA, in the accompanying press release.

“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,” Darbelnet said.