The Road Hazard You Need to Avoid This Season

It has nothing to do with snow or ice.

Photo by Christopher Kimmel/Getty Images

Nobody likes the thought of driving in the winter—and although you definitely need to be cautious of slick roads and heavy holiday traffic, there’s something else you’ll want to watch out for: teenagers. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania sat down with a small group of 16- to 18-year-olds to understand their driving habits, and the results were a bit unnerving.

The study, published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, specifically focused on teens’ cell phone use behind the wheel. All of the teenagers in the focus group were new drivers, licensed to drive in Pennsylvania for a year or less—and while many said they’d never text and drive, their definition of it was a bit murky.

For example, even teens who claimed they never checked their phones in the car admitted to checking texts at a red light. Furthermore, teens often didn’t associate social media use with texting—so while they might not text and drive, they may check Twitter or snap a photo with a passenger. Unsurprisingly, teens were also more likely to check messages from parents or significant others, deeming those as “urgent,” compared to a notification from an acquaintance.

Checking a text at a red light may seem innocuous, but if it signals an easily-distracted driver, it could become serious. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, young drivers between 15 and 24 account for roughly 30 percent of the total costs of car accidents in the U.S., and the risk for crash is highest amongst 16- to 19-year-olds. In a 2014 safety survey, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that one in four teens had texted behind the wheel.

If you have a teenage driver in your home, set a good example. An earlier study from the University of California San Diego showed that even adults felt overly confident behind the wheel when using hands-free devices—even though talking hands-free made drivers four times more likely to crash. If you’re driving to a holiday party, follow this advice for sharing the road with unsafe drivers.