DISTRACTION
and TEEN CRASHES

How it happens, how to help prevent it

DISTRACTION and TEEN CRASHES

How it happens, how to help prevent it

It has long been known that cellphones, passengers, and other distractions contribute to many crashes involving teen drivers. Two studies by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, however, have found that the problem may be bigger than once thought. In one study, after carefully analyzing more than 2,200 videos recorded by in-vehicle cameras, AAA determined that distractions contributed to nearly 6 in 10 teen crashes—four times what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously estimated. In a separate study of crash rate data, AAA determined that drivers age 16 to 17 are three times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than adult drivers.

Create a parent-teen driving agreement.

Working out an agreement together is a chance for parents to explain the importance of driving distraction-free, and to make driving privileges dependent on the teens’ commitment to safety. The signed agreement can be displayed at home as a daily reminder. Take a look at a sample agreement.


These findings are especially concerning during the “100 Deadliest Days” of the year for U.S. teen drivers, which begin on Memorial Day.
Average deaths from crashes involving teen drivers increase 16 percent during this period compared to the rest of the year, since teens drive more in the summer. As distraction is a leading cause of teen crashes, understanding the distractions teens face and how they can avoid them is key to helping make summer travel safer.


What Did AAAs First Study Look at?

Researchers studied dashboard video footage from crashes involving drivers aged 16-19 who were participating in a teen driving program. Each camera filmed the driver as well as the vehicle’s forward view. When hard braking, fast turning or impacts were detected, the recorder saved 12 seconds of data from the incident. The footage below offers examples of the kinds of crashes that were analyzed.


What Did the Study Find?

In the crashes studied, the two biggest sources of potential distraction were:
 

Passengers

Passengers Icon

 

The driver was talking to or interacting with passengers in 15% of all crashes.

  • Passengers were present in 34% of all crashes.
  • Of those passengers, 84% appeared to be aged 16-19.

Cellphones

Cellphone Icon

The driver was using a cellphone in 12% of all crashes.

  • The driver was using a cellphone (typing on it, manipulating it, or looking at it) in 9% of all crashes.
  • The driver was talking on or listening to a cellphone (holding it or hands-free) in 3% of all crashes.
  • 28% of road-departure crashes involved the driver looking at or operating a cellphone, while an additional 4.4% involved the driver talking or listening hands-free.
  • 19% of rear-end crashes involved the driver looking at or operating a cellphone, while an additional 1% involved the driver talking or listening hands-free.

Other Common Distractions

In all crashes, the following proportions of drivers were seen doing each activity:

11%
Looking at
something inside the
vehicle

10%
Looking at
something outside
the vehicle

9%
Singing or dancing
to music

5%
Personal grooming

5%
Reaching for an
object

2%
Eating or drinking

Worrying Trends

Trends Icon

AAA’s researchers found that the way teens use their cellphones behind the wheel changed significantly over the eight-year course of the study. By the time the study ended, teens were more likely to be texting or looking down at the phone than talking on it in the moments leading up to a crash than when the study began

  • Among rear-end crashes, the average eyes-off-the-road time increased from 2 seconds to 3.1 seconds. The duration of the longest glance also rose from 1.5 seconds to 2.1 seconds.
  • The percent of crashes in which the driver had no reaction prior to the crash rose from 13% to 25%.
  • In a separate survey, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that from 2007 to 2014, the percentage of young drivers seen manipulating a hand-held device quadrupled.1

What Did AAA's Second Study Find?

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s latest study, Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age, analyzes crash rates per mile driven for all drivers and found that new drivers age 16-17 were significantly more likely to be involved in crashes. In addition, fatal teen crashes are on the rise. The number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes increased more than 10 percent from the previous year, according to the NHTSA's 2015 crash data, the latest data available.

For every mile on the road, teen drivers age 16-17 are ...

3.9x
as likely as drivers
18 and older to be
involved in a crash

2.6x
as likely as drivers
18 and older to be
involved in a fatal crash

4.5x
as likely as drivers
30-59 to be involved
in a crash

3.2x
as likely as drivers
30-59 to be involved
in a fatal crash


What Can Parents Do About the 100 Deadliest Days?

During the 100 Deadliest Days each year, an average of 10 people die every day as a result of a crash involving a teen driver. That adds up to more than 5,000 people killed over the last five years in teen driver-related crashes. Almost two-thirds of them were people other than the teen driver, so safe teen driving is an issue that affects all motorists.

Since teens are still acquiring crucial experience in their first years behind the wheel, parents should impress upon young drivers the importance of focusing their undivided attention on the road.

Clipboard Icon


Create a parent-teen driving agreement.

Working out an agreement together is a chance for parents to explain the importance of driving distraction-free, and to make driving privileges dependent on the teens’ commitment to safety. The signed agreement can be displayed at home as a daily reminder. Take a look at a sample agreement.

Stopwatch Icon


Explain that even brief cellphone distractions can be disastrous.

In the videos studied by AAA, some cellphone-distracted teens drifted into oncoming lanes within moments of looking down. Previous research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has found that taking one’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds doubles the risk of a crash.

Passengers Icon


Set rules for how many teen passengers can accompany their teen driver.

In most states, thanks to Graduated Driver Licensing laws, there are legal limits on how many young passengers can ride with intermediate-level teen drivers. Parents should ensure that their teens know the law, verify that they are complying, and consider setting their own, more stringent rules.

Music Icon


Stress that all distractions are dangerous.

Even if teens have good cellphone habits and follow the law when it comes to passengers, anything that involves taking eyes off the road ahead is dangerous. Parents should reinforce that trying to find the perfect song or reaching for something in the back seat can also lead to a crash.

InGear Icon


Enroll their child in a free InGear brain training program.

InGear™ is an interactive online program designed to improve the driving awareness of teen drivers, and it includes exercises designed to help reduce distracted driving. Insured members whose teens are also insured through AAA can enroll in InGear at no additional cost. Learn more about InGear.

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Have teens learn good habits in the classroom ... and with their parents.

For teens who don’t yet have their licenses, driving school is an important first step toward developing focus behind the wheel. Learn more about AAA Driving School. (Auto Club Driving School License #3839.) Outside the classroom, parents should set a good example; even teens who are already licensed pick up habits from their parents. 


Information taken from “AAA Reveals Top Driving Distractions for Teens as “100 Deadliest Days” Begin,” AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, June 1, 2016, and "New Teen Drivers Three Times As Likely to Be Involved in a Deadly Crash," AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, June 1, 2017.

1 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2007-2014.