Distraction and Teen Crashes: Even Worse than We Thought

By AAA Kansas
March 25, 2015

The most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers has found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely much more serious a problem than previously known, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Click here for videos. The unprecedented video analysis finds that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. “Access to crash videos has allowed us to better understand the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized.”

Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NHTSA previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.

The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:

Interacting with one or more passengers: 15 percent of crashes

Cell phone use: 12 percent of crashes

Looking at something in the vehicle: 10 percent of crashes

Looking at something outside the vehicle: 9 percent of crashes  

Singing/moving to music: 8 percent of crashes

Grooming: 6 percent of crashes

Reaching for an object: 6 percent of crashes

AAA Executive Vice President Jim Hanni said ”Comprehensive Graduated Driver Licensing laws and parents play a crucial role in offering protection to not only teen drivers, but all motorists who share the roadway with these inexperienced drivers. GDL laws help new drivers gain practical experience in a safer environment by restricting their exposure to risky situations. AAA recommends that parents teach teens about the dangers of cell phone use and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive process.  Before parents begin practice driving with teens, they should create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distraction. AAA offers a comprehensive driver education program, where teens can learn specifically how using a cell phone affects driving abilities and increases their crash risk. For more information, visit TeenDriving.AAA.com.‚Äč

Researchers found that drivers manipulating their cell phone (includes calling, texting or other uses), had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning  they crashed without braking or steering.

Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. About 963,000 drivers age 16-19 were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013, which is the most recent year of available data. These crashes resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.


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