Two Teenagers in a Car on Cell Phones

Teens are obsessed with their smartphones. If you have a teen in your life, you know their phone is never far away. You also know that it could be a deadly distraction behind the wheel. You have probably laid down the law regarding your teen using his or her phone while driving. You may have even installed technology that disables their phone while they are driving. However, you may be surprised to learn that cell phones are not the biggest distraction for teen drivers.

According to a new study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the new number one distraction for teen drivers is talking to other passengers in the car.

The Risks Are Greater in the Summer

Right now, we are smack dab in the middle of the “100 Deadliest Days” for teen drivers, otherwise known as summer vacation. Because more teens are out of school and on the road, they are 16 percent more likely to be involved in a crash each day than at other times of the year. When a teen is at an increased risk of crashing, an innocent driver or passenger is at increased risk of being injured by a teen driver, which is why this trend should concern everybody. According to AAA, over 1,000 people are killed each year in crashes involving teen drivers and 60 percent of teen crashes involve distractions behind the wheel. AAA’s latest study revealed the top distractions for teens, and many people are surprised at the results.

Friends in the Car Are a Risk

Using dashboard cameras in the cars of teen drivers, the study captured 2,200 crashes over eight years and the actions of the driver immediately before the crash. In 15 percent of crashes, the driver was seen talking to or attending to others in the car. In other words, the driver was distracted by his or her friends. Whether looking at a passenger, turning to talk to someone in the back seat, looking at a passenger’s phone, or simply experiencing cognitive distraction by engaging in conversation, having friends in the car is an often over-looked danger for teen drivers. Many states recognize this risk and restrict the number of non-family members teens can drive. Both Kansas and Missouri have graduated license programs for new drivers that address this issue.

  • In Kansas, 15-year-old drivers may not transport any non-sibling minor passengers, and 16-year-old drivers may only drive one non-sibling minor passenger.
  • In Missouri, 16- to18-year-old drivers may only drive one non-sibling minor passenger during the first 6 months of the license, and no more than three non-sibling minor passengers after that.

Of course, these restrictions only work if they are enforced, and it is often up to parents to do the enforcing. Teenagers don’t want to drive anywhere alone and will push the limits of these restrictions as far as they can.

Cell Phone Use Is Still a Problem

Passenger distraction edged out cell phone use by just a few percent. Despite all of the efforts to eliminate the problem, in 12 percent of teen crashes in the study, the driver looked at his or her phone or sent a text immediately before the crash. Teens rarely use their phones for talking anymore, even with the hands-free calling features offered in many cars. Use of their phones almost always requires them to look at the screen or keyboard, taking their eyes off the road. Both Kansas and Missouri ban texting while driving for drivers under the age of 21, but again, this is a difficult rule to enforce.

The third leading cause of driver distraction in the AAA study was attending to or looking at something in the vehicle, accounting for 11 percent of distracted-driving crashes. This could involve eating, putting on make-up, looking at a navigation system, or adjusting music.

Educate Your Teens Before It’s Too Late

The AAA study is surprising in some ways, but we have always known that teens are easily distracted and that the fewer temptations for distraction they have, they safer they will be. When you talk to them about texting and driving, be sure to also talk about passenger distraction and the dangers of eating or focusing on music while driving. The law can only do so much. Teens and their parents must understand the dangers and avoid them at all costs.

Have You Been Injured In a Kansas City Area Car Accident?

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.