Distracted Driving and Young People

Submitted by Carol Sachs RN, BSN

Tags: car accidents distracted driving driving safely texting while driving

Distracted Driving and Young People

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Distraction while driving occurs any time you take your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, and your mind off your primary task: driving safely.

There are three main types of distractions.

  • Manual – removing your hands from the wheel
  • Visual – removing your eyes from the road
  • Cognitive – taking your mind off the complex task of driving.

It is this last type of distraction – known as cognitive distraction– which appears to have the biggest impact on driving behavior especially for young drivers. Young drivers, for the purpose of this paper, will be defined as those ages 16-20.

According to Distraction.gov (2013), “young drivers are 4 times more likely than any other age group to be involved in a crash while distracted”. They are also 44% more likely to text. 73% of those surveyed report driving while texting.

This results in 23 times more likelihood of crashing. In fact, 16% of all distracted driving crashes involve drivers under 20. Crashes are the leading cause of death worldwide among those aged 15–29 years.

Distracted.gov cites “Distracted Driving causes accidents”. According to Merriam-Webster, an accident is defined as an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person. The outcome of distracted driving is predictable, therefore, preventable.

Evidence shows that the distraction caused by mobile phones can impair driving performance in a number of ways, e.g. longer reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, and shorter following distances. Text messaging also results in considerably reduced driving performance with young drivers at particular risk of the effects of distraction resulting from this use. For drivers 15-19 years old, 21 percent of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones at the time of the crash. This was the age group that had the highest portion of distracted drivers identified as using cell phones. Among all distracted drivers in fatal crashes using cell phones, those drivers ages 20 to 29 represent 32% of the fatalities.

Irrespective of driver age, conversing with a passenger was the most frequently recorded internal sources of distraction leading to crash or injury. Finally, research suggests many key areas of the brain are still developing during adolescence, including areas involved in regulatory competence, forming judgments and decision making, all of which have important implications for driving. There are many reasons why teens tend to be more distracted while driving. First, is that teens are immature and just don't think an accident will happen to them. And if it did, teens have the "invincible" attitude that they will still be fine after an accident - these feelings of invincibility are physically normal but place the teen at an increased risk. So, if we know that no matter how mature a teenager is they still don't have the brain of an adult, parents need to find ways to make sure their teen driver knows what distracted driving is and how to avoid it. Most research on distracted driving among teenagers has focused on one of two issues: cell phone use and the carrying of passengers. In fact, there has been so much evidence about the risk of crashing when distracted by passengers that Pennsylvania decided to pass Act 81. This act states that as of Dec. 27, 2011, for the first six months after receiving their junior driver’s license, a driver is not permitted to have more than one passenger under age 18 who is not an immediate family member (brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister of the junior driver and adopted or foster children living in the same household as the junior driver) in their vehicle unless they are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. If they have not been convicted of a driving violation or been partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash after six months, they may have up to three passengers under age 18 who are not immediate family members without a parent or legal guardian present. If they have any convictions or are partially or fully responsible for a reportable crash while a junior driver, they are once again restricted to one passenger. The younger the age of the driver the more likely the distracted behavior will occur and result in an accident.

Distracted driving has received so much attention it was designated the 2009 “Word of the Year” by Webster’s New World College Dictionary and the U.S. Department of Transportation has held two summits to discuss distracted driving and to identify opportunities for addressing the problem. When teens were surveyed, the most common answer given for why they thought it was ok to text, call or be distracted: They saw their parents do the exact same thing. Teens whose parents set rules and limit driving privileges (such as driving at night, driving with teen passengers) are less likely to drive unsafely, get ticketed for driving offenses by police officers, and get in a crash. A parent/teen driving agreement is a written contract that can be used by parents of teen drivers to manager teen driving after your teen gets his/her driver's license. The agreement should include driving restrictions, rules and consequences for breaking the rules.

How does this impact Nursing? Teen drivers cause many preventable accidents. If we can educate parents and teens at a school nurse level, at the Pediatrician’s office when the physical form is completed and on a community level amongst people we encounter, we can help to save lives and millions in healthcare costs. Parents can print a parent/teen driving agreement by visiting the American Academy of Pediatrics website. Some car insurance companies have teen driving safety information and this type of agreement. Teens are likely to adopt their parents driving behaviors and attitudes. Encourage parents to set a good example by always using seat belts, avoiding driving distractions, such as using cell phones, and obeying speed limits.

Nurses: what you do and say matters, your actions speak volumes. Educating parents and speaking up when unsafe driving behaviors occur may help save a life.


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