A study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development has revealed that, while newly licensed drivers start their time on the road following safe driving practices, they quickly lapse into distracted driving behaviors and eventually engage in such behavior more frequently than veteran drivers. Appearing in the January 2nd issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the results of the study seek to reveal the effect of engaging in high-risk distracting secondary tasks, such as using a cell phone to dial or text, reaching away from the steering wheel, looking at something alongside the road, and eating, on drivers of different age groups.
To discern their findings, researchers compared the results from a one-year, 100-car study with drivers between 18 and 72 years of age with an average of 20 years’ driving experience and an 18-month study of 42 teens who had their drivers’ licenses for less than three weeks at the start of the study. Participants in the study drove vehicles equipped with sensors and cameras which collected video and driving performance data. The data was then reviewed for distracting secondary tasks present within five seconds prior to or within one second after a crash or near-crash where the driver was at fault.
Ultimately, the study showed that novice drivers engaged in secondary tasks less frequently than more experienced drivers during their first six months of driving. However, between months seven and fifteen of driving, teen drivers lapsed into the same distracted driving behaviors as their veteran counterparts. By months sixteen through eighteen, they were engaging in high-risk distracting secondary tasks more frequently than experienced drivers, “a two-fold increase in risky distractions during the last three months of the study.”
Interestingly enough, the study also showed that talking on a cell phone while driving did not increase crash risk among experienced or novice drivers, while dialing or texting increased the risk of an accident for both groups.
Novice drivers between the age of 15 and 20 “represent 6.4 percent of all motorists on the road, but account for 11.4 percent of fatalities and 14 percent of police-reported crashes resulting in injuries.” Previous studies have found that crash rates among newly licensed drivers are nearly four times higher than those among experienced drivers.
This most recent study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development proves that inexperience at responding to hazards on the road, a risk that can only be overcome with practice, does not by itself account for poor crash-rate statistics amongst teen drivers. A broad category of distracting behavior, which includes distractions as simple as viewing surroundings other than the road as well as using technology in the car, is also a significant contributing factor to crashes or near-crashes by teens.