Eyes on the Road, Hands on the Wheel, Mind on the Task

Distracted driving is a hot topic in the traffic safety field, particularly as it relates to teen drivers. Teens are believed to be particularly susceptible to the dangers posed by distracted driving, as they are among the most avid adopters of new technologies, and they have the least experience managing risks behind the wheel.

Recently, we released the results from our naturalistic teen driver study, which is among the first to examine teen distracted driving through direct observation using in-vehicle cameras.

Electronic device use accounted for nearly one third of all the incidences of distracted driving observed in the study. Other frequent distractions included adjusting vehicle controls, personal grooming, and eating or drinking.

Interestingly, females were nearly twice as likely as males to use an electronic device while driving, and overall were nearly 10% more likely to be observed engaging in other distracted behaviors, such as reaching for an object in the vehicle and eating or drinking. Males, on the other hand, were roughly twice as likely to turn around in their seats while driving, and were also more likely to communicate with people outside of the vehicle.

Teens were twice as likely to text or type on their electronic devices as they were to make handheld calls. Recent reports suggest teens send between 3,000 to 4,000 texts per month, and with texting estimated to increase crash risk at least eight times, the findings underscore how critical it is for teens to put down their devices and pay attention to driving.

Other concerning behaviors involved teens driving with teen passengers. Loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when multiple teens – instead of just one – were present. These distractions are particularly concerning, as they were found to be associated with serious incidents and high g-force events. Drivers were six times more likely to have a serious incident when there was loud conversation in the vehicle, and were more than twice as likely to have a high g-force event when there was horseplay.

As we continue with our observance of National Youth Traffic Safety Month, I urge everybody – not just teens – to remember the three simple rules of attentive driving: keep your eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and mind on the task at hand. Put your texts and calls on hold, or the next message your friends receive may be from the hospital.