UPenn study reveals alarming teen distracted driving trends

Distracted driving is prevalent among teens and the problem may come down to defining what a distraction is.

Teenagers are at a much higher risk than other age groups of being involved in a serious motor vehicle accident. In fact, as the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that car accidents are the leading cause of death of American teenagers. To help combat this problem, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) recently conducted a study into teens' attitudes towards distracted driving. The results of that study led to some worrying insights about the prevalence of distracted driving among teens and what many teens even define as distracted driving.

How common is teen distracted driving?

Distracted driving is highly prevalent among teenage drivers. One survey by the CDC found that 45 percent of teenagers admitted to texting and driving within the past 30 days. Another study found that over half of drivers aged 16 and 17 had also admitted to talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel of a car.

Such high rates of distracted driving led UPenn researchers to conduct a series of focus groups asking teenagers about their attitudes towards distracted driving. A press release from UPenn about the study revealed, perhaps surprisingly, that although distracted driving was prevalent among teenagers, almost all of those surveyed said they knew how dangerous distracted driving was.

Defining distracted driving

Researchers were initially perplexed by the fact that most teens knew about the dangers of distracted driving but did it anyway. Further questioning of the focus group participants, however, revealed why such a disparity exists. The problem appears to be about how most teenagers define distracted driving. Many of the participants, for example, did not consider texting at a red light to count as distracted driving, despite the fact that taking one's eyes off the road, even at a red light, presents a safety hazard.

Additionally, many of the participants failed to realize the dangers of other distractions, particularly distractions caused by fellow passengers. The researchers note that the risk of a crash occurring increases relative to the number of passengers a driver has in the car with him or her. As a way of better educating young drivers, the researchers suggest parents and safety officials should move beyond simply telling teenagers to not engage in distracted driving and to actually have a discussion about what is and is not allowed when behind the wheel.

Motor vehicle accidents

Safety should always be every driver's number-one priority when on the road. Sadly, some drivers, such as distracted drivers, engage in behaviors that place other people in harm's way. For anybody who has been hurt by a distracted driver, it is important to reach out for help. A personal injury attorney can assist accident victims, including by advising them on their legal rights and guiding them through whatever personal injury claims they may be able to pursue.