Distracted Driving Common Among Teens

Another report on distracted driving says that the deadly problem is, not surprisingly, common among teenagers. Although distracted driving is problematic for all drivers, younger drivers appear to be at greater risk.

In fact, said NPR, drivers under the age of 25, when compared to older drivers, are about three times likelier to send text or email messages when behind the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Because teenagers are at a developmental stage in which becoming distracted is more of an issue than for other problems, the risks are even more intense, said NPR.

Teens are still in the process of developing their “regulatory competence,” their ability to regulate attention and emotions to better function while under challenging situations, explained NPR. The prefrontal cortex—the brain’s executive control center—develops slower than the brain’s limbic system, where arousal and reward are controlled. In other words, “The effort required to maintain control is substantially higher” in adolescents, said Daniel Keating, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. Keating has published studies on adolescent development and its effects on driving. “If there are distractions—noise in the car, kids in the car—all those things are grabbing attention. That’s extra stress,” Keating told NPR. “It can tip the balance if kids are driving lots of miles.”

NPR pointed out that, in 2010, more than 3,000 people died in crashes blamed on distraction-related causes; this amounted to about 10 percent of all deaths on the road, according to NHTSA data.

This week, we wrote that texting while driving was blamed for a fatal New York car crash. The driver, 25-year-old Alicia Westgate, was charged with reckless operation of a motor vehicle, speeding, failure to use due care, and use of a portable electronic device—texting—said the Tonawanda News. Westgate’s 2005 Malibu fatally hit bicyclist Richard Webb, 67, on July 16. Westgate, who was texting at the time, was charged by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s report indicates that Westgate was unaware of the bicyclist, who was pronounced dead at the scene.

As we’ve written, recent studies found that safe texting when driving is not possible. Also, a 2011, national, anonymous survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), revealed that 58 percent of the high school senior students and 43 percent of the high school juniors surveyed admitted to having texted or emailed on their devices while driving—in just the prior month, said the Associated Press (AP). Some prior studies suggest that teen texting when driving was common, but did not reveal that the practice was as high as it is, said the AP. Prior studies presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies in Boston, Massachusetts, found that the mere thought of texting on a mobile device while driving might be enough to cause teens to crash. In fact, studies suggest that teenage drivers who text with their device in any position and teens who just think about texting, are likelier to crash.

Meanwhile, a transportation law just signed by President Obama contains $46 million in incentive grants for states, over the next two years, to create or reinforce distracted driving programs. There is also $27 million for states to improve graduated driver licensing programs that include, for example, banning younger drivers from using cell phones or other communication devices, except in emergency situations, said NPR.

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