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Latest Distracted Driving Study: Risk Highest for Novice Drivers

For a major new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers from two major safety groups followed 150 drivers for 12 to 18 months using unobtrusive cameras and sensors in their vehicles. A quarter of those drivers were teens who, at the beginning of the study, had only just earned their driver’s licenses.

Some of the results were surprising, but not in the area of distraction and novice drivers. In fact, the study confirmed that distraction-related car accidents and near-misses were far more prevalent among new drivers than experienced ones.

The researchers, who were from the National Institutes of Health and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute estimate that, on average, American drivers spend about 10 percent of their time with their eyes off the road. The activities included texting, dialing phones, eating, reaching for objects in the car, and even looking at roadside scenery.

For all drivers, dialing phones and texting were the most distracting activities. However, eating, reaching and looking at the roadside measurably increased the risk of a crash among the novice drivers.

Interestingly, simply talking on the phone did not prove to be a distraction for either adults or teens — but reaching for the phone and dialing it were distracting for both.

Dialing a cell phone doubled the adults’ risk of an accident or near-miss, but the newly-licensed drivers were eight times more likely to crash or nearly miss crashing when doing so. Because much of the data was collected when texting was far less prevalent than it is today, however, it could not fully demonstrate the danger texting while driving would ultimately represent. Even then, however, teen drivers were four times as likely to crash or nearly crash while texting. 

People between the ages of 15 and 20 make up only 6 percent of all U.S. drivers, but they’re involved in 14 percent of all car accidents with injuries, and 11 percent of fatal wrecks. When it comes to technological distractions, teens may believe their tech savvy makes up for their inexperience. Unfortunately, research shows that’s simply not the case.

Source: SFGate, “Distracted driving riskiest for new drivers,” Kathryn Roethel, Jan. 14, 2014

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