Study sheds new light on distracted driving among teens

Teenage drivers are often treated as the scapegoats in conversations about the nation’s ongoing distracted driving epidemic, but a recent study shows that young drivers tend to start off as more attentive drivers than adults – before quickly going astray.

According to a report published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, newly licensed teen drivers tend to start out on the right foot by keeping their eyes, hands and concentration focused on the all-important task of driving safely. Within just a few months, however, many young drivers begin to indulge in seemingly-minor distractions as their confidence in their own driving skills begins to grow. Unfortunately, because novice drivers are typically less able to cope with these distractions than more experienced drivers, they frequently result in traffic accidents.

Within months, teens are as distracted as adults

Bruce Simons-Morton, a behavioral scientist who co-authored the study, explained to National Public Radio that teen drivers begin multitasking as a result of a human tendency to gradually add difficulty to a task until an error occurs. Unfortunately, when the task is driving, these errors can have potentially devastating consequences.

Researchers conducted the study by tracking drivers of varying experience levels with cameras and sensors to observe their behavior just before an accident or near miss occurred. The study involved 42 novice drivers and 100 more experienced drivers. Because of the small sample size, the authors note that additional research is needed to verify their findings; however, they say, it is the first study to provide a completely objective look at distracted driving among teens.

The study revealed that although newly licensed teen drivers were generally more attentive than their older counterparts, over time they began to partake in distracting activities like eating, adjusting the stereo, text messaging and talking on the phone. Within six months of becoming licensed, the researchers found, teen drivers were engaging in distracting behaviors at the same rate as more experienced drivers – and were significantly more likely than the older drivers to crash while doing so.

Distracted driving is a risk at any age

These findings could help explain the relatively high rate of accidents among teenage drivers, who lack the many hours of practice that may help older drivers avoid accidents even under less-than-ideal circumstances. However, while young drivers may be even more severely affected by distractions than their older counterparts, it is important for drivers of all ages to understand that distractions of any kind can greatly increase the risk of vehicle accidents.

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers of all ages are three times more likely to be involved in a car accident while engaging in activities that occupy the hands and eyes, such as dialing a phone, texting or changing the radio station. Cognitive distractions, such as talking on hands-free cellphone or utilizing a voice-to-text system, have also been shown to increase the risk of accidents even though they may not occupy the driver’s hands or eyes.

Holding distracted drivers responsible

Distracted drivers who cause traffic accidents can be held liable for any resulting injuries, deaths or property damage. To learn more about the legal options that may be available if you or a family member has been hurt in a crash with a distracted driver, get in touch with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer in your area.