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Phones, friends are distracting problem for teen drivers

March 25, 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) — Distractions — especially talking with passengers and using cellphones — play a far greater role in car crashes involving teen drivers than has been previously understood, according to compelling new evidence cited by safety researchers.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed nearly 1,700 videos that capture the actions of teen drivers in the moments before a crash. It found that distractions were a factor in nearly 6 of 10 moderate to severe crashes. That’s four times the rate in many previous official estimates that were based on police reports.

The study is unusual because researchers rarely have access to crash videos that clearly show what drivers were doing in the seconds before impact as well as what was happening on the road. AAA was able to examine more than 6,842 videos from cameras mounted in vehicles, showing both the driver and the simultaneous view out the windshield.

The foundation got the videos from Lytx Inc., which offers programs that use video to coach drivers in improving their behavior and reducing collisions. Crashes or hard-braking events were captured in 1,691 of the videos.

They show driver distraction was a factor in 58 percent of crashes, especially accidents in which vehicles ran off the road or had rear-end collisions. The most common forms of distraction were talking or otherwise engaging with passengers and using a cellphone, including talking, texting and reviewing messages.

Other forms of distraction observed in the videos included drivers looking away from the road at something inside the vehicle, 10 percent; looking at something outside the vehicle other than the road ahead, 9 percent; singing or moving to music, 8 percent; grooming, 6 percent; and reaching for an object, 6 percent.

In one video released by AAA, a teenage boy is seen trying to navigate a turn on a rain-slicked road with one hand on the wheel and a cellphone held to his ear in the other hand. The car crosses a lane of traffic and runs off the road, stopping just short of railroad tracks that run parallel to the road.

One teen driver is captured braking hard at the last moment to avoid slamming into the back of an SUV stopped or slowed in traffic ahead. Just a moment before, the girl had turned her attention to another girl in the front passenger seat in an animated conversation. The camera shows the shock on the girls’ faces as they suddenly realize a crash is imminent.

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