January 09, 2014
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Crashes, near-crashes caused by distracted driving among adolescents

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Distracted driving increased the risk of crash and near-crash among newly licensed adolescents, according to results of a recent study.

“The secondary tasks associated with the risk of a crash or near-crash all required the driver to look away from the road ahead,” the researchers wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine. “The prevalence of high-risk performance of secondary tasks was similar overall in the two groups, although it increased among young drivers over the 18-month study period, possibly because of increased confidence in driving over time.”

Sheila G. Klauer, PhD, of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg, Va., and colleagues installed sensors into cars of 42 newly licensed (defined as having a license for 3 weeks or less) drivers aged 16.3 to 17 years and 109 cars of adults aged 18 to 72 years with more experience to determine the effect of distracted driving on crashes and near-crashes.

Adolescents in the newly licensed group were at increased risk of crash or near-crash if they took part in dialing or reaching for a cellphone, texting, reaching for something other than a cellphone, looking at a roadside object, and eating. An increased risk was only associated with dialing a cellphone among the experienced group.

Among the experienced group, the incidence of performing secondary tasks did not change significantly with time (P=.61). However, the newly licensed group participated in secondary tasks more often during the study period (P<.05). Overall, 9.9% of the newly licensed group and 10.9% of the experienced group performed secondary tasks while driving.

"In conclusion, our findings indicate that secondary tasks requiring drivers to look away from the road ahead, such as dialing and texting, are significant risk factors for crashes and near-crashes, especially among novice drivers," the researchers wrote.

Disclosure: The study was funded in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.