Top Teen Driver Distraction? Electronic Devices, Says AAA Study

March 27, 2012

Parents of newly-licensed teens, take note. In the first study using in-car video footage to focus specifically on teen distracted driving, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that teenage girls are twice as likely as teen boys to use text and use cell phones or other electronic devices while behind the wheel.

While electronic devices ranked highest as teen driver distractions, these weren’t the only distractions the in-car cameras recorded over the course of the initial six months of unsupervised driving.  Other distractions included:

  • Adjusting controls
  • Personal grooming
  • Eating or drinking
  • Reaching for things in the car

Commenting on the study, Peter Kissinger, AAA Foundation President and CEO said, “This new study provides the best view we’ve had about how and when teens engage in distracted driving behaviors believed to contribute to making car crashes the leading cause of death for teenagers.”

The study, Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Highway Safety Research Center, looked at the prevalence and consequences of distracted driver behaviors and conditions during high g-force maneuvers such as hard braking, rapid acceleration, or swerving.

Texting while driving

Texting while driving

Enlarge Photo

Age and gender differences in behavior

Researchers found that many of the distracting behaviors were more prevalent among older teens, especially the use of electronic devices. This suggests that teens’ behavior changes as they become more comfortable behind the wheel.

Teen girls were found to be more than twice as likely as teen boys to use an electronic device while driving, but also 10 percent more likely overall to be engaged in other distractive behaviors.  Girls were 50 percent more likely than boys to reach for an object while driving and nearly 25 percent more likely than boys to eat or drink behind the wheel.

Teen boys, on the other hand, were about twice as likely to turn around in their seats while driving and to communicate with others outside the car.

According to Kissinger, these gender differences with respect to teen distracted driving may raise points that future AAA studies will investigate.

U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

U.S. lawmakers to get tougher on teen drivers

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Passenger distractions

While it may seem intuitive, the amount of potential teen driver distraction increased with multiple peers in the vehicle, as opposed to a teen driver with a parent or sibling present.

Loud conversation and horseplay, for example, were more than twice as likely to occur with multiple teen peers present, instead of just one.

Why is this finding concerning? Researchers say that these types of distractions are associated with crashes and other serious incidents – such as leaving the roadway -- and high g-force events.

  • Drivers were six times as likely to have a serious incident when there was loud conversation going on in the vehicle.
  • During horseplay, drivers were more than twice as likely to have a high g-force event.

Glancing away from the road

The in-car cameras noted other teen distracted driving behaviors of concern, including glancing away from the roadway. Teen drivers were three times as likely to take their eyes off the road when using electronic devices and two-and-a-half times as likely to do so when engaged in other behaviors.

On average, teen drivers using electronic devices took their eyes off the road for one full second longer than drivers not using one of these devices.

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