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Studies: Other teens contribute most to teen car crashes

Posted September 25, 2014
Updated October 7, 2014

— Texting and driving isn't the leading cause of distracted driving among teens.

It's other teens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for those between ages 16 and 19.

"Cellphones get all the attention, but it's really teen passengers that pose the biggest potential distraction for teen drivers," Arthur Goodwin, senior researcher at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, said Thursday – two days after Panther Creek High School sophomore Laura Yost died from injuries she suffered in a recent wreck.

Cary police say the driver, 16-year-old Spencer Saunders, failed to yield to oncoming traffic – and although it's unclear what contributed to the wreck, Yost's death highlights adolescent driver-safety concerns.

Older drivers, researchers say, are more experienced and can anticipate problems behind the wheel. But a younger driver doesn't have the same skill to make the same driving decisions while being distracted.

Using in-vehicle cameras to observe driver and passenger behavior, the Highway Safety Research Center found that teens are six times more likely to be in a situation requiring an evasive maneuver to avoid a crash when passengers are loud. They're three times more likely when they are rambunctious.

"If you have multiple teens in a vehicle, teens are much more likely to be in a serious crash," Goodwin said. "It takes years of behind-the-wheel practice before you see the driving world in the same way an experienced driver does."

From 2003 to 2012, the number of fatalities among North Carolina drivers under the age of 20 decreased by 42 percent, according to the Highway Safety Research Center.

In 2012, for example, 170 drivers 20-years-old or younger were involved in a fatal crash – a decrease of 3 percent from 2011.

Researchers believe the state's graduated driver licensing system has played a big factor in the decrease.

The system – 42 other states have similar programs – imposes on teen drivers restrictions that are gradually lifted as young drivers gain experience behind the wheel.

For example, teens with a "limited provisional license" aren't allowed to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. without an experienced driver next to them. They're also limited to who can be in the car with them.

But highway safety researchers say that young drivers are still over-represented in crashes and fatalities.

In 2012, 16- to 20-year-olds made up 7 percent of North Carolina's population, but the age group represents 13 percent of all crashes and 9 percent of fatal crashes – most of which occurred near 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. – the same times teens are driving to and from school.


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  • ytb781pearl Sep 26, 2014

    Another study that states the obvious!

  • 678devilish Sep 26, 2014

    There is serious consequences when you do not obey the law. So continue to use the cell phone while you are driving. Anything that happens will be on you. Hope you live to tell your side of the story. Otherwise you will be 6 ft. under. Which would you prefer? Its not just the teenagers either. Its adults to 40's, 50', and 60 and above. I have seen it. There is not that much talking and texting in this world if you want to see the sun rise the next day.

  • kre2 Sep 26, 2014

    Teen drivers need to learn the pharse that all parents use on a trip..."Shut up, seat back, and enjoy the ride".

  • aprilhunter220 Sep 26, 2014

    I agree with MALONEM1..How many more 16/17 year olds are going to have to die before anyone changes the age. I 44 and I waited until I was 17 because I didn't think I was ready at 16. 18 should be the new 16.

  • babylaceycarpenter Sep 26, 2014

    I wonder how much money was spent on these completely unnecessary studies. Surely, it was in the millions of dollars. I could have told them the exact same thing, for next to nothing. The results of the studies are absolutely correct. The money spent for this useless study, is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Edward Anderson Sep 26, 2014
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    I wonder how much federal grant money was used to conduct this oh-so-obvious study?

  • Marcia Maloney Sep 26, 2014
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    They need to change the driving age to 18 - no 15 or 16 needs to be behind the wheel with as many cars out on the road today and too many careless drivers either texting or on the phones not paying attention. When I drive, my phone goes in my purse and both eyes are on the road. Young teens are immature and inexperienced behind the wheel . I hope in the future, they pass a law where the driving age begins at 18 - (fewer lives would be lost) - all states should follow Tokoyo's age - 18.

  • unc70 Sep 26, 2014

    View quoted thread

    That might be true if trucks had to meet the se safety standards as automobiles.

  • David Collins Sep 26, 2014
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    Everyday I somebody (mostly teens) on their cell phone while driving. I can always tell someone is on their phone by the way they are driving.

  • Matthew Behrle Sep 26, 2014
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    Regular cab, manual transmission trucks, not sure you can do any better for a teen's vehicle. Just one extra passenger will fit and makes texting and driving much less of an option.