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AAA: Distracted driving remains leading cause of deadly teen crashes

Posted June 1

— New teen drivers ages 16 to 17 years old are three times as likely as adults to be involved in a deadly crash, according to new research released Thursday by AAA.

The leading cause of crashes for teens continues to be distracted driving, experts said.

There were 95 teen fatalities in North Carolina last year, and more than 12,000 teens were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Research shows that 22.2 percent of all crashes involving NC teens in 2016 were the result of distracted driving.

Thursday's findings were released to coincide with the period known as the "100 deadliest days," which is between Memorial Day and Labor Day. During this period, the average number of deadly teen driver crashes climbs 15 percent compared to the rest of the year, according to AAA data.

Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people were killed in crashes involving inexperienced teen drivers during this deadly period.

When analyzing crash rates per mile driven for all drivers, AAA found that 16- and 17-year-old drivers are:

  • 3.9 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a crash
  • 2.6 times as likely as drivers 18 and older to be involved in a fatal crash
  • 4.5 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a crash
  • 3.2 times as likely as drivers 30-59 to be involved in a fatal crash

AAA said three factors are common in deadly crashes for teen drivers:

  • Distraction: Distraction plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The top distractions for teens include talking to other passengers in the vehicle and interacting with a smartphone.
  • Not buckling up: In 2015, the latest data available, 60 percent of teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt. Teens who buckle up significantly reduce their risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash.
  • Speeding: Speeding is a factor in nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. A recent AAA survey of driving instructors found that speeding is one of the top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive.

"By better understanding how teens are distracted on the road and reminding them to disconnect and drive, we can better prevent deaths throughout the 100 deadliest days and the rest of the year,” AAA Carolinas President and CEO Dave Parsons said in a statement.

Emily Mercer, 16, said while she has only been driving for a few months, she has learned a lot from her two big sisters.

"They're very responsible while driving, so they are good to learn from," Mercer said.

Mercer's parents have also talked to her about safe driving.

"Like with friends in the car, don't pay attention to the friends. You want to keep everyone in the car safe because you're responsible for everyone in the car," she said.

Taylor Griffin, 17, agrees. She said the cellphone is off-limits behind the wheel.

"I think you should be giving the road 100 percent attention," Griffin said. "If my phone buzzes, just don't look at it. And just don't get distracted by other things around me."

AAA says parents need to be more involved and talk to their teens about the dangers of distracted driving. AAA also encourages parents to teach by example and minimize risky behavior while driving and make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets out rules for younger drivers.

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