What causes distractions behind the wheel?

April 20, 2015 09:04 AM

Drivers frequently rely on past experiences to help them on the roads. They could remember a back road that will help them avoid congested traffic, instinctively swerve to avoid an obstacle in the middle of their lane or enact defensive driving techniques they've picked up over the years. Unfortunately, young drivers don't have this well of knowledge to pull from. Time and driving experience will provide some insight, but there are still plenty of problems these young motorists must be aware of as they're getting used to life behind the wheel. 

Indisputable evidence says distractions are a problem
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety recently released a study that examined why teen drivers crash. From the research, which was the most in-depth video analysis of crashes ever completed, experts found that distractions were a factor in about 60 percent of moderate-to-severe crashes involving teens.

That's as much as four times initial estimates based on data from police reports. It's also significantly higher than what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration predicted. The organization estimated that distractions played a role in about 14 percent of accidents involving teen drivers - a far cry from the AAA numbers. 

"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."

In total, the study found that distractions accounted for 58 percent of all the crashes examined. The numbers jumped to 89 percent for accidents where drivers left the road and 76 percent of rear-end crashes. 

What are young drivers doing? 
Distracted driving is a problem, but there are many different activities that could impact how focused a motorist is on the road. Cellphones and other types of in-car technology may be the first thing people blame for distractions. They aren't too far off, as smartphone use accounted for about 12 percent of all crashes involving young drivers, according to the report. However, that was slightly less dangerous than interacting with other passengers, which was responsible for about 15 percent of the accidents. 

AAA zoomed in on smartphone use to determine how it impacted a driver's reaction time. According to the data, people who used cellphones for phone calls, texting or other activities took their eyes off the road for 4.1 seconds out of the final 6 seconds prior to a crash. If the collision involved the motorist rear-ending another driver, the phones frequently prevented them from taking any type of action to lessen the blow or avoid an accident altogether. Even thorough brake service and tune ups won't help in these situations, as drivers don't have time to react and stop the car because they're too focused on mobile devices. 

Other problems arose when drivers tried to do too much behind the wheel. Personal grooming and reaching for an object each caused about 6 percent of the accidents, while singing or even dancing to music while driving led to 8 percent of the crashes. Looking at something inside or outside of the vehicle accounted for 10 percent and 9 percent of accidents, respectively.

Putting safety first
Safety should come first on the road no matter how old you are. Practicing defensive driving techniques and following all of the rules of the road are extremely important, but motorists should also know vehicle maintenance tips that help them stay safe. Most vehicles are loaded with features aimed at preventing crashes and preserving the well-being of all passengers. Knowing how these amenities work - and being assured that they are functioning at a high level - can make a big difference for drivers. 

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