Whether talking to passengers, checking their hairstyle or using a smartphone, driver distraction is a factor in six out of 10 car accidents involving young drivers.
The AAA describes its findings as the result as the most comprehensive research to date on the subject based on analysis of video footage of car crashes involving teen drivers. The organization's Foundation for Safety also claims that based on its results, driver distraction is being severely underestimated as a prevailing factor in accidents on US roads.
Based on an analysis of almost 1,700 videos captured via in-vehicle event recorders -- i.e. dash cams -- driver distraction was a factor in 58% of all crashes and, more worryingly, of almost nine in 10 road departure accidents.
"Access to crash videos has allowed us to better understand the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible," said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. "The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized."
As for what's causing the distractions, interacting with other occupants in the car was a factor in 15% of crashes and cellphone use in 12% of incidents.
Texting, making a voice call or using other phone functions caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 seconds of the final six seconds immediately prior to a crash in the study and researchers found that the activity also impeded reaction times. Drivers distracted by their phones failed to react before impact in more than 50% of rear-end crashes, meaning that they crashed without attempting to take evasive action or apply the brakes.
"It is troubling that passengers and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction given that these factors can increase crash risks for teen drivers," said Beth Mosher, AAA Chicago spokesperson. "The situation is made worse by the fact that young drivers have spent less time behind the wheel and cannot draw upon their previous experience to manage unsafe conditions."
Smartphones, quite rightly, come in for serious criticism. However, singing and moving to music (8%), looking at something in the vehicle (9%), ‘grooming' (6%) and reaching for an object (6%) were all factors in a collision.
Minimizing distractions could make a huge difference. Teens are the most likely in the US to have a crash severe enough to merit a police report. In 2013, 16-to-19-year-olds were involved in 963,000 such incidents, resulting in 2,865 deaths and 383,000 injuries.