Texting while driving gets a lot of attention, so does making telephone calls. Most teens acknowledge that those are dangerous activities when behind the wheel, but the variety of things teens admit that they do when driving is alarming, particularly since taking one’s eyes off the road for a mere two seconds can increase the risk of an accident by up to 24 times.
Distracted driving has long been a leading cause of accidents for drivers of all ages. However, according to the researchers, the first six months after getting a license are the worst for distracted driving. That is why new teen drivers are more susceptible to the risks and the likelihood of inattentive driving given their lack of experience as drivers and habitual multitasking while doing homework, eating and in other situations.
Researchers surveyed teen drivers to learn more about their habits behind the wheel. They then invited them to take an interactive driver education course and query their reactions.
The teens were all aware of the dangers a cell phone can be as a distraction. They were well aware not to text or talk holding a phone while in motion. In fact, the awareness campaigns about texting while driving showed they are working; only 40 percent of the teens said they text while behind the wheel, a number well below earlier studies. Surprising to the research team, however, were the other behind the wheel activities regularly employed.
Changing clothes and shoes while driving was a common activity, with 27 percent of those surveyed admitting that they sometimes use their car as a dressing room – while en route. They also acknowledge that they will change contact lenses (presumably not while moving), put on makeup and even do their homework while they are behind the wheel. There were also gender differences; female teens were more likely to use a phone (and makeup), whereas males are more likely to turn and look away from the road toward others in the vehicle.
“We were pretty surprised at the changing clothes bit,” admitted David Hurwitz, the Oregon State University assistant professor of transportation engineering who led the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security. They realized that there are all sorts of things teens do without awareness of the risks, he added. Changing radio stations and fiddling with the GPS can be just as dangerous as texting, Hurwitz noted.
The Oregon State researchers took their study a step further by seeing how effective teen driver education programs could be in addressing the issue. They asked teens they surveyed in Oregon, Idaho and Washington state to participate in a special class that was developed to help the students better understand the risks of distracted driving.
To see the impact of things the teens do when they are driving and should not, part of the training involved having the students try multitasking in the classroom. For example, the instructors asked participants to write down numbers on the board while talking on the phone. “This was just a scenario to demonstrate that having a distraction can really prevent you from doing basic tasks,” explained Hurwitz.
By Dyanne Weiss