An unprecedented study of teen driving shows the connection between distracted driving and teen crashes is stronger than originally thought.

The study found that police estimates of crash statistics were way off. Six out of ten moderate-to-severe teen crashes are caused by distracted driving — four times as many as original estimates claimed based on police reports.

About the Study

AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and Lytx (a company that has collected data using in-vehicle event recorders for a decade) compiled data to create a 71-page report that shows we underestimated the dangers of distracted teen driving.

Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,691 videos of crashes involving drivers ages 16-19 and found that distraction was a factor in 58% of crashes.

Distraction played a role in 89% of road-departure crashes and 76% of rear-end crashes.

The Main Distractions

Passengers are the most dangerous distraction for teens. According to the report, 15% of crashes were caused when the driver was interacting with one or more passengers.

Digital distractions were a close second. Twelve percent of crashes were caused due to cell phone use. Cell phone use included calling, texting, and other uses (app usage, adjusting music, etc.)

Digital distractions caused teens to take their eyes off the road for “an average of 4.1 of the final six seconds leading up to the crash,” the study reported. It also limited reaction time. In rear-end crashes, teen drivers using cell phones were more likely to crash without steering away or braking.

Ordinary distractions are just as dangerous. Parents may focus on teaching their teens to put their phones away while driving, but they need to remind them about ordinary distractions they may underestimate. A surprising percentage of crashes were caused by common distractions.

  • 10% — looking at something in the vehicle
  • 9% — looking at something outside the vehicle
  • 8% — singing/moving to music
  • 6% — grooming
  • 6% — reaching for an object

What Parents Can Do

Create a Safe Driving Contract — Use a safe driving contract to set boundaries and expectations for your teen’s driving. AAA offers a free PDF agreement for parents that outlines both rules and consequences of driving.

Limiting the Number of Passengers — Interacting with passengers was the number one cause of accidents for distracted teen drivers. Limit the number of passengers that your teen can have in the vehicle and let them work their way up to having more passengers as they get more driving experience.

Teach Your Kids About #X — Remind your teens that they don’t need to respond to text conversations while they are driving. They should use a tactic from the “It Can Wait” campaign and simply text #X before getting behind the wheel — which is a way to pause the conversation until they are off the road.

Don’t Contribute to Your Child’s Distracted Driving — Parents who expect their children to answer their phone at all times could be increasing the amount of distracted driving their teens are involved in. All but one teenage driving demographic surveyed by APA said that parents were the number one contact they talked to while driving.

Related: Parents Are Most Distracting to Teen Drivers

Set a Good Example — If you frequently engage in distracted driving in front of your teen, they will begin to see that as a normal driving habit. So, practice the same safe driving habits you would like your teen to exhibit.

Monitor Their Speed — You can’t be on the road with your teen every time they drive, but you can be aware of their activity on the road.

With MamaBear, The Ultimate Parenting App™, parents can receive alerts regarding where their teen is driving and how fast they are going. The free app, available for iPhones and Androids, is a way for you to give independence to your teen driver while staying connected to their driving habits and encouraging safe driving practices.

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