Study: Distracted Driving Strongest with Girls, Older Teens

Girls and older teens are most prone to engage in distracted driving behaviors, according to a new study of young drivers from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The report, called “Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers,” was part of a larger three-part study of 50 families in North Carolina.

This most recent report analyzed video clips recording 52 pairings of drivers and in-car cameras that noted behaviors and data, activating with “event-based” actions such as sudden braking or an abrupt turns. Of the 52 drivers, 14 were older teenage siblings of the original 38 targeted teens. The report used a sampling of almost 8,000 video clips taken from more than 24,000 total clips recorded over six months in 38 vehicles and was the first of its kind to use such in-car devices.

With teens having a high accident rate and the number of crashes and collisions figuring heavily into the price of an insurance policy, parents shopping for teen auto insurance are likely to see much higher rates compared with other age groups. Teens are known to take much more risks than their older counterparts, including engaging in distracted driving.

Federal officials estimate that 16 percent of fatal crashes and 20 percent of injury-related crashes in 2009 were linked to reports of distracted driving. Teenaged drivers were most likely of any age group to be involved in a distraction-related crash, and 40 percent of all teens in the U.S. say they have been a passenger in a vehicle where the driver “used a cell phone in a way that put people in danger.”

Girls More Distracted, Used Electronic Devices Most

Video clips caught teenage drivers using an electronic device in 6.7 percent of all driving clips. Of those, 2.3 percent were seen holding a cell phone to their ear while almost twice as many, 4.3 percent, were using electronic devices in other ways. Girls were twice as likely as boys to be using an electronic device.

Aside from electronic devices, teenagers engaged in at least one type of distracted behavior in 15.1 percent of the video clips, including adjusting controls, eating or drinking, reading, turning around, reaching for an object and communicating with someone outside the vehicle.

Overall, girls were 10 percent more likely to drive while distracted. However, teenage boys were twice as likely to engage in specific distracted behaviors like turning to communicate with passengers behind them or with people outside of the vehicle.

The rate of electronic device use about doubled for the 14 older siblings in the study, suggesting that such behavior sets in more as a driver ages.

“The target teens, who had just received their intermediate license, may have felt a greater need to comply with the restriction,” authors stated in their analysis.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, North Carolina bans drivers from making calls on cell phones while driving until they are 18, and no drivers are permitted to text while behind the wheel.

Not All Bad News for Teenagers

The news for teenage drivers wasn’t all bad, with the study finding that they curbed distracted driving in environments “that place greater demands on the driver” like driving in rainy conditions.

“There was some evidence teenagers tempered these behaviors” in such settings, the study concluded.

Also, only a minor number of the observed video clips involved “a serious incident” like hard braking or turning and near collisions, amounting to only 0.7 percent of the total. More than half of the 52 teenaged drivers registered no serious incidents at all during the six months they were recorded.

Some teenagers, however, were the source of most risky driving, with seven accounting for 58 percent of all “serious incidents”; 15 incidents were attributed to three of those teens. And while 17 percent of drivers did not use electronic devices in any of the video clips, 12 percent were recorded using such devices in over 15 percent of their video clips.

The entire study can be found at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety’s website.

Insurance Implications

​Whether a citation for driving while using an electronic device will impact insurance premiums depends on the state and the insurer.

In some states, the offense is not even considered a moving violation and does not end up on a driver’s record, which means the insurance company will never see it.

But in other states, getting a ticket using a cell phone while driving is treated as harshly as speeding and ends up going on the offender’s record. Even if it does end up on a driving record, though, different insurance companies will weigh the infraction differently.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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