Teen Drivers Should Silence Phones When Behind the Wheel

Distracted driving

Distracted driving (Photo credits: www.smartsign.com)

Anyone who has had frequent involvement in teen car accidents takes every opportunity to warn teens and their parents about the dangers. That goes for first responders to the scene; it goes for the emergency and medical personnel who treat the injuries and attempt to save lives; and it goes for us lawyers, who often are called upon to help sort out what happened and why.

These tragedies happen far too often, and they almost always could have been avoided, if the teen drivers involved had just listened to the warnings.

Motor vehicle accidents are the No. 1 cause of death among U.S. teens (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Almost 3,000 teens are killed and more than 280,000 are injured in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. every year.

Are these number higher than for other age groups? Absolutely. For every mile driven, teen drivers are three times more likely to die in a fatal crash than drivers 20 and over, according to the CDC.

Accidents of all kinds cause half of all teen deaths, and vehicle crashes account for more than a third of all teen deaths. The other leading causes of death, in order, are homicide, suicide, cancer and heart disease.

There are many efforts to reduce teen traffic fatalities and injuries. One is to keep warning teens to avoid the distractions. Distractions are such a serious problem for teen drivers that the federal government has a website, Distraction.gov, devoted to the issue. That site says 11% of the fatal crashes involving teen drivers involved a driver who was being distracted at the time of the crash.

One of the biggest distractions to teen drivers, of course, is talking and texting on mobile phones. Distraction.gov said texting while driving “is by far the most alarming distraction” because texting demands so much of the driver’s attention: visual, manual and cognitive.

No wonder texting poses such a distraction. The CDC says the average teen sends and receives 100 text messages a day.

If a teen gets 7 hours of sleep, that means the average teen is getting a text about every 10 minutes during his waking hours.

Some of those texts are coming while the teen is driving. Teens should consider resisting temptation by silencing their phones whenever they are behind the wheel.

One third of teens say they texted or emailed while driving during the previous month. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety said female teens are twice as likely as male teens to use their phones while driving.

Other Distractions

However, it may be a mistake to point all the blame at mobile phones. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of all of the teen drivers who were distracted resulting in a fatal crash, 21% of the distractions involved the use of a cell phone. That means phones are a serious part of the problem, but it also means 8 out of 10 times some other distraction was to blame.

A study by AAA corroborates the NHTSA statistic, finding that “electronic device use was only weakly related to serious incidents” (a link to that study is at the bottom of this blog post).

What are some of other major distractions leading to teen fatalities and injuries in vehicle crashes?

  • Adjusting the radio or other controls. AAA said that is the single common distracting behavior of teen drivers.
  • Grooming while driving.
  • Talking to other teens in the vehicle.
  • Eating while driving.
  • Smoking while driving.
  • Reading while driving.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has published a good booklet on this subject, “Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers” (March 2012), which is available as a free pdf downloadable.