Study: Nearly two-thirds of teen car crashes blamed on distractions behind the wheel

WILMINGTON — A follow-up traffic study confirms that nearly 60 percent of teen crashes involve distractions behind the wheel, and also says texting and social media use are on the rise among teen drivers.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that over the past five years, more than 5,000 people have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the “100 Deadliest Days,” the period starting at Memorial Day when teen crash deaths historically climb.

Crashes for teen drivers increase significantly during the summer months because teens drive more during this time of year. Over the past five years during the “100 Deadliest Days”:

• An average of 1,022 people died each year in crashes involving teen drivers;

• The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 16 to 19 increased by 16 percent per day compared to other days of the year.

“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 Jim Lardear, director of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

“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.”

In 2014, Delaware had 33,864 licensed drivers aged 16 and 19 representing about 4 percent of all licensed drivers. According to Delaware State Police statistics, these drivers were in 3,080 crashes, of which 701 involved injury and nine involved fatalities.

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 videos of teen drivers. 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. The latest report compared new crash videos with those captured from 2007 to 2012 and found consistent trends in the top three distractions for teens when behind the wheel in the moments leading up to a crash:

• Talking or attending to other passengers in the vehicle: 15 percent of crashes;

• Talking, texting or operating a cellphone: 12 percent of crashes;

• Attending to or looking at something inside the vehicle: 11 percent of crashes;

Researchers also found that how teens use their cellphone 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, which shows text messaging has become a key component in day-to-day interactions amongst teenagers. Fifty-five percent of teens spend time every day texting, sending an estimated 80 text messages per day.

“It’s no secret that teens are extremely connected to their cellphones,” said Mr. Lardear. “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.”

Research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. A recent AAA Foundation survey shows that nearly 50 percent of teen drivers admitted they had read a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days. NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey also shows that from 2007 to 2014, the percentage of young drivers seen visibly manipulating a hand-held device quadrupled.

AAA encourages parents to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving and monitor their actions behind the wheel. It recommends parents should:

• Have conversations early and often about the dangers of distraction.

• Make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules against distracted driving.

• Teach by example and minimize distractions when driving. can help prepare parents and teens for the summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmart program also offers resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges.

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