Cell Phones In Cars: The Perfect Storm for Teenagers

This blog has previously discussed the clear and present danger posed by intoxicated teenagers who get behind the wheel. Minors have less driving experience, and this lack of experience means less ability to control a car in an emergency. Mix in alcohol, wherein the reaction time is slowed and their bravado might be increased; this lack of concern for dangerous conditions grows–and you have a recipe for disaster.

In a new study, a traffic safety research organization claims that the steady increase in nighttime highway accident fatalities among teen drivers nationally over the past ten years comes more from distracted drivers rather than drunk drivers. All this is happening while overall highway fatal accidents are on the decline, although drunk driving fatalities are apparently increasing for the 20-and-0ver cohort.

A senior research engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute, the study’s author, explained  that nighttime driving is the most common, documented factor associated with crashes involving young drivers. Other factors include darkness, slow response time because of fatigue, and–as we noted above–lack of experience driving under adverse conditions. Additional variables include other minors in the car, speeding, not buckling up, and of course, alcohol. But cell phone use appears to be the major risk factor.

“Being on a cell phone behind the wheel impairs our driving ability,” the engineer said. “When you add the nighttime danger, you create the perfect storm, and that storm is much more severe for young drivers, largely because of their lack of driving experience.”

The report concludes as follows:

The findings of this analysis suggest that alcohol is contributing to an increase in nighttime fatal crashes involving drivers age 20 and older. However, the same is not true for teenage drivers, suggesting that factors other than alcohol are responsible for the trend of increased nighttime crashes for teens…However, it is cell phone use – propelled by rapid technological advancement and increased affordability – that is likely the most notable new driving risk factor for contemporary teens.

To read the entire report, including statistics for Indiana, visit the Texas Transportation Institute’s website.

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