Yesterday on The PediaBlog, I mentioned five things that teen drivers need to promise if they want me to sign their driver’s permit forms:
- Don’t drink and drive.
- Don’t ride in a car where the driver has been drinking.
- Drive slow in residential neighborhoods.
- Don’t drive slow in the left lane.
- Keep cell phones out of reach.
Before we get to that last promise, let’s first look at some (very) good news:
The number of teen drivers involved in fatal car crashes decreased by more than half (55%) between 2004-2013, according to a recent study by the CDC. Researchers felt that the economic downturn in 2008 contributed to the decline as more teenagers delayed getting their licenses due to driving costs (gas, insurance, etc), as fewer miles were driven due to those same costs, and as high schools cut back driver education programs. They also noted that newer cars, with their collision and lane departure warning devices and electronic stability systems, are better built and safer than older ones. But the most important factor for reduced teen fatalities was graduated license programs, which limit teen driving at night and restrict teenage passengers allowed in the car until young drivers gain experience over a certain period of time.
The last item — restricting teenage passengers — is especially important in order to prevent distractions to new drivers. Being distracted while driving can be a real killer, says Michael Green:
The most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers has found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely much more serious a problem than previously known, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The unprecedented video analysis finds that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes, which is four times as many as official estimates based on police reports.
Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NHTSA previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.
Green lists he most common forms of distraction found by the researchers:
- Interacting with one or more passengers: 15 percent of crashes.
- Cell phone use: 12 percent of crashes.
- Looking at something in the vehicle: 10 percent of crashes.
- Looking at something outside the vehicle: 9 percent of crashes.
- Singing/moving to music: 8 percent of crashes.
- Grooming: 6 percent of crashes.
- Reaching for an object: 6 percent of crashes.
Nearly one million drivers between 16-19 years of age were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013 — the most of any age group. Cell phone use was implicated in many of those events:
Researchers found that drivers manipulating their cell phone (includes calling, texting or other uses), had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning they crashed without braking or steering.
All drivers need to drive undistracted — especially novices. That means limiting talking while driving, turning off the audio system, and keeping cell phones out of reach. Turn the phone off and store it in the glove compartment or center console. Calls and texts (and Facebook and Snapchat) can wait, and so can scrolling through your iTunes playlist.
Finally, more experienced drivers (I’m looking at parents here) need to set good examples, especially when it comes to cell phone use. It can all wait until you arrive, safely, at your destination.