Noting that car accidents are the leading cause of death and disabilities among American adolescents, the national institute for Child Health and Human Development markedin April by releasing a collection of research on why teenagers are such risky drivers and ways school districts can help them drive safely.
Teenagers have the highest crash rate of any age group of drivers, and the NICHD’s Naturalistic Teenage Driving Study found that they are five times more likely than adults to drive unsafely, and four times more likely to crash or nearly crash.
In a series of studies, NICHD researchers put sensors on the vehicles of 42 Virginia adolescents in the first 18 months after they had received their driving licenses. The trackers recorded “high g-force events” such as sudden braking, hard turns, or acceleration. Researchers found that the more such events a teenager had, the more likely he or she was to get into a crash or near-crash.
An adult’s presence in the car cut the risk of crashing by 75 percent, but if a driver had other teenagers in the car, particularly boys, the likelihood of crashing nearly doubled. In fact, a car full of teenage boys showed the highest risk of a fatal crash. A recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, however, found that teenage girls are about twice as likely to use cellphones while driving than boys. The foundation analyzed nearly 8,000 video clips from cameras mounted inside the cars of new teenage drivers.
The NICHD driving study found that texting, eating, and reaching for objects were the most common things that led to crashes—and while these are distracted behaviors for adults, too, they are much more dangerous for teenagers. A teenager dialing a mobile phone was seven times more likely to crash, while for an adult, the risk increased only 2.5 times.
A separate study shows why: Adult drivers on a test track who were asked to make a call would glance up as they approached an intersection, spotting a changing yellow traffic light. Teenagers, on the other hand, would finish dialing the number before looking up, thus often running a red light.
In response, the NICHD has provided funding for University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers who are developing a computer-simulation program to train new drivers to spot and respond to road dangers.
A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2012 edition of Education Week as Research Highlights Patterns Of Distracted Teenage Driving