Here’s What’s Really Distracting Teens Behind the Wheel

The number one distraction isn’t a cell phone.

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Photo by Zero Creatives / Getty Images

As we enter a time dubbed the “100 Deadliest Days,” named for the period following Memorial Day when deathly car accidents involving teens spike, the AAA Foundation says nearly 60 percent of teen crashes are a result of distractions.



It might come as a surprise that the top distraction isn’t a cell phone. During an eight-year study in conjunction with the University of Iowa, the AAA Foundation viewed footage from more than 2,200 in-car dash cameras to analyze the minutes leading up to a crash. Talking or attending to other passengers in the vehicle accounted for 15 percent of accidents, with talking, texting, or operating a cell phone following closely behind at 12 percent, and attending to or looking at something inside the vehicle at 11 percent.

Though cell phones were not the most common distraction among teen drivers, using them is still particularly dangerous—and on the rise. In a recent study by the AAA Foundation, approximately 50 percent of teen drivers admitted to reading a text message or an email while driving in the last 30 days and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey found that there was a significant increase in young drivers seen using handheld devices from 2007 to 2014. According to research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, texting increases the chance of a crash or near-crash two-fold.

“Every day during the summer driving season, an average of 10 people die as a result of injuries from a crash involving a teen driver,” Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a statement. “This new research shows that distraction continues to be one of the leading causes of crashes for teen drivers. By better understanding how teens are distracted on the road, we can better prevent deaths throughout the 100 Deadliest Days and the rest of the year.”