Almost 60% of moderate to severe car crashes involving teens are caused by distracted driving, a new study from the AAA Foundation of Traffic Safety has found. That figure is much higher than the 14% previously estimated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized,” Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA safety division, said in a statement.
The study used data from video recorders placed in vehicles, analyzing the six seconds before 1,700 accidents. Distraction was a key factor in 58% overall of the teen crashes studied, and contributed to an even higher percentage of certain kinds of accidents; distraction was involved in 89% of road-departure accidents and 76% of rear-endings, the researchers found.
Teen drivers’ eyes were off the road for an average of 4.1 seconds in the six seconds prior to a crash.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, cell phone use was a top distraction at fault in the accidents studied, at 12%. But it was actually surpassed by interactions with other passengers, at 15%.
And those aren’t the only behaviors that can land teen drivers’ cars in one of the country’s 87,032 auto repair shops — or, more worryingly, land the drivers themselves in the hospital. According to federal data for 2013, the latest available, 963,000 drivers aged 16 to 18 were involved in reported accidents, resulting in 383,000 deaths and 2,865 injuries. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens.
Looking at something inside the vehicle played into 10% of the accidents, looking at something outside the vehicle accounted for 9%, singing or listening to music accounted for 8%, and grooming and reaching for an object inside the vehicle accounted for 6% each.
The event recorders had been placed in the vehicles at the request of their owners for insurance purposes, and the drivers were participating in a program to improve driver safety. AAA says that because the teen drivers in question were aware of the monitoring, distracted driving could be an even more rampant problem among the general population of young drivers.