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Keeping The Youth In Our Communities Safe

Foundation for Traffic Safety
takes unprecedented look into
causes of teen crashes

The most comprehensive research ever conducted into crash videos of teen drivers has found significant evidence that distracted driving is likely much more serious a problem than previously known, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The unprecedented video analysis finds distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes -- four times as many as official estimates based on police reports.

Researchers analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders. The results showed distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied; including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. NHTSA previously has estimated distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.

“Access to crash videos has allowed us to better understand the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that teen drivers are distracted in a much greater percentage of crashes than we previously realized.”

The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:
• Interacting with one or more passengers: 15 percent of crashes.
• Cell phone use: 12 percent of crashes.
• Looking at something in the vehicle: 10 percent of crashes.
• Looking at something outside the vehicle: 9 percent of crashes.
• Singing/moving to music: 8 percent of crashes.
• Grooming: 6 percent of crashes.
• Reaching for an object: 6 percent of crashes.

“Perhaps not surprising, passenger distractions and cell phones were the most common forms of distraction identified in the study. Both factors well known to increase crash risk for teen drivers,” said Gene LaDoucer, spokesman for AAA – The Auto Club Group in North Dakota.

Researchers found drivers manipulating their cell phone (includes calling, texting, or other uses), had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react more than half of the time before the impact, meaning they crashed without braking or steering.

“This study shows how important it is for states to enact and enforce graduated driver licensing and for parents to stress and model distraction-free driving,” continued LaDoucer. “While North Dakota prohibits cell phone use by drivers under age 18, the state doesn’t limit the number of passengers of newly licensed teen drivers. AAA recommends restricting passengers to one non-family member for the first six months of driving.”

Graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws allow new drivers to gain practical experience in a relatively safe environment by restricting their exposure to risky situations. Thirty-three states have laws that prevent cell phone use for teens and 18 states have passenger restrictions meeting AAA’s recommendations.

Parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving. AAA recommends that parents teach teens about the dangers of cell phone use and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive process. Before parents begin practice driving with teens, they should create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distraction. For more information, visit

Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. About 963,000 drivers age 16 to 19 were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013, which is the most recent year of available data. These crashes resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.

The full research report is available on the Foundation’s website. The Foundation partnered with researchers at the University of Iowa to conduct this study.

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