Teen drivers account for only 6.4 percent of all motorists on the road. They are, however, responsible for 11.4 percent of fatalities and 14 percent of all car wrecks with a reported injury. New findings from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child and Human Development suggest that increasing distractions may be the reason for the high frequency of teen car accidents. According to the new study, teens start their driving career cautiously. But within weeks, once they are more comfortable on the road, they begin multitasking while driving. Handling a phone to dial, text, email or even answer a call is a significant distractions But eating, talking to passengers, taking hands off the wheel, looking at something on the side of the road and looking or reaching for items in the car also constitute significant and dangerous distractions in teen drivers. Interestingly, the report concludes that teen drivers are more inclined than experienced drivers to engage in these “secondary” activities. These distractions, concludes the study, have a significant impact on the frequency of teen car accidents.
Though not opined within the study itself, I can’t help but “blame” the blessing/curse of technology. Without sounding preachy, I am a fan of technology – all of it, though my wife and I are in a constant discussion over the parameters of screen time in the house and, particularly, with our small children. But when I was a teen driver (30 years ago), I cell phones were not yet available. Nor were iPhones or laptops or iPads. There were 6 buttons on the radio identifying 6 radio stations. There was a slot for an 8-track cassette. Today, teens are equipped 24/7 with pads and screens keeping them looped into their parents, friends and even favorite celebrities. The new normal is a group of teens “hanging out” with each other while each one manages a dizzying array of screens, games, and contacts within and outside the group. It’s no wonder that teens, once the initial fear of the road starts to wear, go back to what’s familiar – constant contact. And that poses a threat to them and everyone else.
Let all have and enjoy our screens. This blog is not a social cry for that type of change. But everyone must recognize the threat that distraction poses on the road. Adults and teens alike, when distracted, are unable to appropriately respond to road hazards like abruptly slowing traffic or a vehicle entering the roadway. If handling a cell phone or texting is not yet illegal on your roadways, the rule for young and old drivers should still be the same: keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.