Video study shows distraction may cause over half of teen car crashes

Observational research suggests that over half of teen accidents, including a high proportion of rear-end and off-road accidents, involve distraction.

As many parents in Lee's Summit know, distracted driving is a common problem among teenagers. Many teens may underestimate the danger of diverting their attention from driving, while others may lack the self-restraint to avoid distractions. Troublingly, half of teens report texting while driving, despite the well-known risks of this habit, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Sadly, this kind of inattention can have steep consequences, especially since teens have limited driving experience. Not surprisingly, a new study suggests that distraction may contribute to a large proportion of serious teen car accidents.

A common cause of accidents

As CNBC reports, researchers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently reviewed 1,700 recordings that were taken in the vehicles of teenagers. All of these videos were recorded during the six seconds prior to a crash. The researchers found that inattention was a common problem, with the rates of distracted driving broken down as follows:

  • In 58 percent of moderate to severe accidents, teens were distracted immediately before crashing.
  • Teen drivers were paying attention to things other than driving in 76 percent of rear-end collisions.
  • In a staggering 89 percent of accidents in which teenagers drove off the road, distraction was a factor.

The findings of this study suggest that more teen car accidents involve distracted driving than previously believed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that 14 percent of teen accidents involve distraction. The study suggests that the true rate of these accidents could be as much as four times higher.

Typical teen distractions

The study identified a few widely recognized risky behaviors and a few more surprising ones. Texting played a role in 12 percent of the accidents, but it wasn't the leading distraction. In 15 percent of the crashes, teens diverted their attention from driving to interact with passengers. The next most common activities were looking at objects, singing, moving to music, grooming and reaching for objects inside the vehicle.

Missouri law currently prevents teenagers from engaging in a few of these behaviors. Texting is illegal, and newly licensed teens can't drive with more than one passenger under age 19 during their first six months of driving. Still, teens may violate these laws, or they engage in distractions that aren't explicitly outlawed, such as grooming.

Teen accidents in Missouri

Data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol shows that in 2013, drivers under age 21 were involved in 7,679 crashes. These accidents injured more than 11,000 people and claimed 124 lives. Although this data set includes drivers between ages 20 and 21, it still suggests that distracted teens could have contributed to hundreds or even thousands of accidents.

Sadly, the mistakes or reckless decisions that teen drivers make have the potential to cause serious harm to others. When this happens, accident victims may be able to seek compensation for their wrongful injuries. Anyone who has been harmed in a distraction-related accident should consider meeting with an attorney to discuss this option in greater detail.

Keywords: distracted, driving, accident, texting