Heads Up, Novice Drivers

January 16th, 2014 by Andrea Bennett

A new study reveals that young drivers are more likely to engage in distracted driving habits.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

The very real movement to warn people of the dangers of texting, dialing, multitasking behind the wheel, and even driving with dogs has appealed to drivers on an emotional level through storytelling and reporting on some of the consequences of distracted driving.

Now, a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine will help convince those of these dangers through straight number crunching. And if you recognize that distracted driving might be a problem for you, you might want to know of the alarmingly higher risk for your teenaged drivers.

For instance, drivers who are 15 to 20 years of age constitute 6.4 percent of all drivers, but also account for 10 percent of all motor vehicle traffic deaths and 14 percent of all police-reported crashes resulting in injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s last count, in 2012. To figure out precisely how much higher the risk is for young drivers to engage in so-called secondary behaviors, a team of researchers collected 12-18 months of driving data between 2006 and 2008 from 42 newly licensed teen drivers from southwestern Virginia, and from 109 more experienced drivers from Washington, D.C., all driving cars outfitted with cameras, GPS, accelerometers and other sensors. Among their findings: Dialing a cellphone is the most dangerous thing you can do in a car, increasing the risk of crashing or nearly crashing by eight times for novice drivers.

In the study, the team evaluated the records for evidence of a crash or near-crash, then correlated the car movements with the camera footage of the drivers, evaluating them for actions like talking on a phone, dialing a phone, looking out the window, or adjusting the radio. The drivers got into 73 crashes and 612 near-crashes during the period. And while dialing a cellphone made novice drivers 8.32 times likelier to crash or almost crash, they were also 8 times higher when reaching for something besides their cellphone; 3.9 times higher when looking at something on the side of the road (like a car accident scene); and nearly 3 times higher when eating.

Among the more experienced drivers, dialing a cellphone increased the risk of a crash or near crash by 2.49 times.

The numbers for texting and browsing the Internet are relatively low (3.87 times for novice drivers), which seems low until you consider the fact that the study used data from before smartphones were widely used. Do these numbers seem accurate to you – or unusually high or low? Weigh in.