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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Summer 2012 Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2012

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AAA Foundation Study Examines Teens and Distractions

A recent naturalistic study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety provides new insights into teen distracted driving behavior. The report, Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers, used in-car cameras to record teens in real-world driving situations.

The data for this report came from video clips collected as part of a three-phase study of 50 North Carolina families with novice teen drivers. Researchers at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center analyzed these clips to look for distracted behaviors and distracting conditions among teens during high g-force maneuvers (such as swerving, hard braking, or rapid acceleration). In all, 7,858 clips were recorded when a pre-determined g-force threshold was exceeded in the vehicle.

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The footage from these clips showed that teen driver distractions vary by gender and other factors. Electronic devices were the most commonly observed distracted driving activity for all new teen drivers, observed in seven percent of the clips. Teen girls were twice as likely as their male peers to use their cell phone or other electronic devices while driving.

Potentially distracted behavior included adjusting controls (6.2%), personal grooming (3.8%), and eat9 t ing or drinking (2.8%). Researchers found that many distracting behaviors – including use of electronic devices – were more common among the older teens. This suggests that teens begin to engage in more distracting behaviors as they become more accustomed to driving.

The number and type of passengers also affected the teen drivers’ behavior. With parents or other adults present, potentially distracting behavior decreased significantly. On the other hand, when more than one teen peer was in the car, loud conversation and horseplay were more than likely to occur, which were found to increase the likelihood of serious accidents or high g-force events.

AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger states that, “This new study provides the best view we’ve had about how and when teens engage in distracted driving behaviors believed to contribute to making car crashes the leading cause of death for teenagers.”

For a copy of the report, go to