Real Video Shows Distracted Teen Drivers Moments Before Things Go Wrong

March 27, 2015

We've all been there: motoring along, our minds somewhere else, when suddenly our attention snaps back to the road, and we realize that we're barreling toward the back end of a car or a semi or a squirrel. It happens. 

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It happens most frequently with inexperienced drivers -- especially teenagers, who have the highest crash rate of any demographic in America. And when it comes to teens, more often than not, the culprit isn't boredom or fatigue, but distraction.

To prove it, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted what it bills as "[t]he most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers". The Foundation sorted through nearly 1,700 videos retrieved from in-vehicle event recorders that had been installed on cars driven by teens. Those recorders saved 12-second clips of instances of hard braking, fast cornering, or particularly harsh impacts.

Infographic: Distraction and Teen Crashes

Infographic: Distraction and Teen Crashes

In analyzing those videos, researchers made the following discoveries:

  • Distraction played a role in 58 percent of all crashes involving teen drivers. (That's interesting because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had previously believed that distraction was only a factor in 14 percent of teen crashes.)
  • Distraction was particularly common in road-departure and rear-end crashes, causing 89 percent of the former and 76 percent of the latter. 
  • Passengers were the biggest distraction for teen drivers, causing 15 percent of accidents.
  • Cell phones came in a close second, linked to 12 percent of accidents.
  • Distractions distort time: in just the six seconds of video recorded before accidents, researchers found that teens took their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 seconds
  • In cases of rear-end crashes, more than half of teen drivers distracted by cell phones failed to react at all. In other words, they hit the vehicle in front of them at full speed, with no braking or defensive steering.

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AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet found the analysis to be particularly disheartening and called for tougher restrictions on young drivers: 

"This study shows how important it is for states to review their graduated driver licensing and distracted driving laws to ensure they provide as much protection as possible for teens. AAA recommends that state laws prohibit cell phone use by teen drivers and restrict passengers to one non-family member for the first six months of driving."

The Foundation used this study as the basis for a new report bearing the less-than-memorable title, Using Naturalistic Data To Assess Teen Driver Crashes. You can read it for yourself here -- and be sure to watch a few of the clips analyzed in the study, compiled in the video above.

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