AAA Carolinas Reveals Top Driving Distractions for Teens as “100 Deadliest Days” Begin

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CHARLOTTE, N.C.  – Over the past five years, more than 5,000 people have been killed in crashes involving teen drivers during the “100 Deadliest Days,” the period starting at Memorial Day when teen crash deaths historically climb. As the summer driving season begins, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is releasing a follow-up study confirming that nearly 60 percent of teen crashes involve distractions behind the wheel. The research also finds a disturbing trend showing that texting and social media use are on the rise amongst teen drivers.

Crashes for teen drivers increase significantly during the summer months because teens drive more during this time of year. The average number of deaths from crashes involving teen drivers ages 16-19 increased by 16 percent per day compared to other days of the year in the past five years during the “100 Deadliest Days”. Since 2010, 509 people in North Carolina have died in crashes involving teen drivers. Just in 2015, 66 teens (age 15-19) died in traffic collisions in South Carolina.

This year’s new follow-up report from the AAA Foundation is part of the most comprehensive eight-year research project ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers. In collaboration with researchers at the University of Iowa, the AAA Foundation analyzed the moments leading up to a crash in more than 2,200 videos captured from in-car dash cameras. The latest report compared new crash videos with those captured from 2007 -2012 and found consistent trends in the top three distractions for teens when behind the wheel in the moments leading up to a crash:

  • Talking or attending to other passengers in the vehicle: 15 percent of crashes
  • Talking, texting or operating a cell phone: 12 percent of crashes
  • Attending to or looking at something inside the vehicle: 11 percent of crashes

Since 2010, 16,662 people in North Carolina have been injured in teen distracted driving related crashes.

“This new research shows that distraction continues to be one of the leading causes of crashes for teen drivers. By better understanding how teens are distracted on the road and reminding them to disconnect and drive, we can better prevent deaths throughout the 100 Deadliest Days and the rest of the year,” said AAA Carolinas President and CEO Dave Parsons.

Researchers also found that how teens use their cell phone when behind the wheel changed significantly over the course of the study.  In the moments leading up to a crash, teens were more likely to be texting or looking down at the phone than talking on it. This supports findings by Pew Research Center, which shows text messaging has become a key component in day-to-day interactions amongst teenagers. Fifty-five percent of teens spend time every day texting, sending an estimated 80 text messages per day.

“It’s no secret that teens are extremely connected to their cell phones,” said Tiffany Wright President of AAA Carolinas Traffic Safety Foundation. “Many teens are texting or using social media behind the wheel more often than in the past, which is making an unsafe situation even worse.”

Research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. A recent AAA Foundation survey shows that nearly 50 percent of teen drivers admitted they had read a text message or email while driving in the past 30 days. NHTSA’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey also shows that from 2007 to 2014, the percentage of young drivers seen visibly manipulating a hand-held device quadrupled.

In preparation for the “100 Deadliest Days”, AAA encourages parents to educate their teen about the dangers of distracted driving and monitor their actions behind the wheel.  Parents should:

  • Have conversations early and often about the dangers of distraction.
  • Make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules against distracted driving.
  • Teach by example and minimize distractions when driving.

TeenDriving.AAA.com has a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangerous summer driving season. The online AAA StartSmartprogram also offers great resources for parents on how to become effective in-car coaches as well as advice on how to manage their teen’s overall driving privileges. Teens preparing for the responsibility of driving should enroll in a driver education program that teaches how to avoid driver distraction and other safety skills.

Here are AAA’s top 10 tips to avoid distractions while driving:

  1. Fully focus on driving and don’t allow any activity to divert your attention. Actively scan the road, use your mirrors and watch out for pedestrians and cyclists.
  2. Store loose items that could roll around in the car, so you don’t feel tempted to reach for them on the floor or the seat.
  3. Make adjustments before your drive. Address vehicle systems like your GPS, seats, mirrors, climate controls and sound systems before hitting the road. Decide on your route and check traffic conditions ahead of time.
  4. Finish dressing and personal grooming at home – before you get on the road.
  5. Snack smart. If possible, eat meals or snacks before or after your trip, not while driving.
  6. Secure children and pets before getting underway. If they need your attention, pull off the road safely to care for them. Reaching into the back seat can cause you to lose control of the vehicle.
  7. Don’t use cell phones while driving – handheld or hands-free – except in absolute emergencies. Never use text messaging, email functions, video games or the Internet with a wireless device, including those built into the vehicle, while driving.
  8. If you have passengers, enlist their help so you can focus safely on driving.
  9. If another activity demands your attention, instead of trying to attempt it while driving, pull off the road and stop your vehicle in a safe place. To avoid temptation, power down or stow devices before heading out.
  10. As a general rule, if you cannot devote your full attention to driving because of another activity, it’s a distraction. Take care of it before or after your trip, not while driving behind the wheel.

Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable research and educational organization. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save lives through research and education about traffic safety. The Foundation has funded over 300 research projects designed to discover the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them and minimize injuries when they do occur.

AAA Carolinas, an affiliate of the American Automobile Association, is a not-for-profit organization that serves more than 1.9 million members and the public with travel, automobile and insurance services while being an advocate for the safety and security of all travelers.

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