Twenty-seven percent of teens say they change clothes or shoes, or work on homework while driving, a new study has found.
Young, inexperienced drivers have always gotten into more automobile accidents, but if you add in a lot of distractions, it’s a recipe for disaster – and a new Pacific Northwest research program is learning more about these risks while identifying approaches that may help reduce them.
David Hurwitz, an assistant professor of transportation engineering in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, and corresponding author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security, said: “Based on recent studies, anything that takes your attention away, any glance away from the road for two seconds or longer can increase the risk of an accident from four to 24 times.
“This is a dramatic increase in risk, with inexperienced drivers who are least able to handle it. The absolute worst is texting on a cell phone, which is a whole group of distractions. With texting, you’re doing something besides driving, thinking about something besides driving, and looking at the wrong thing.”
While many young drivers understand the risks of texting, Hurwitz said, they are much less aware of other concerns that can be real – eating, drinking, talking on a cell phone, smoking, adjusting the radio, changing a CD, using a digital map or other controls.
“Automobile manufacturers have made cars significantly safer, but in the interests of passenger comfort they also continue to add more pleasant distractions within the vehicle,” Hurwitz said.
“More experienced drivers learn how to control these distractions, but we’re finding the most problems with the very young driver, within six months of getting a license.”
Aside from lack of experience, he said, young drivers also have a higher risk tolerance, use seat belts less, and choose higher speeds.
The researchers found that “interactive” driver training that focuses on the issue of distractions, which can be done with driving simulators or simple computers, and can involve writing, discussion and tactile problem-solving, can help.
This project was funded by the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, an initiative supported by OSU, the University of Washington, University of Idaho, Washington State University and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.