As Novice Drivers Learn the Ropes, They Take on More Tasks Behind the Wheel

As novice drivers get more comfortable behind the wheel, they are more likely to start performing secondary tasks that divert their eyes, such as dialing a cell phone, texting, or eating, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in January 2014. When drivers try to multi-task behind the wheel, it increases the risk of crashes.

Auto accidents are the leading cause of death for people under age 35, and teen drivers are three times more likely to get into fatal traffic crashes than drivers over the age of 19.

The NEJM study found that inexperienced drivers are not able to juggle the task of driving with other activities such as talking on the phone, eating, or using personal electronics. To make matters worse, novice drivers have more difficulty recognizing road safety hazards. Many also are overconfident about their driving abilities. As a result, teen drivers are particularly at risk for distracted driving wrecks.

Although states all around the nation limit teen cell phone use, and texting bans for new drivers are extremely common, the new study reinforces the fact that young drivers have a low distraction threshold.  Unlike seasoned drivers, teen drivers have a tendency to engage in distracting behavior even if they are in heavy traffic, crowded intersections, construction work zones and other hazardous situations. Therefore, teen drivers’ high rates of distraction-related road deaths are likely the result of inexperienced drivers using poor judgment about when and how to answer the phone, send a text, adjust the stereo, or eat a snack while driving.

The bottom line, according to Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Tom Dingus, is for all drivers to avoid engaging in any distracting activity while driving. Virginia Tech published a study of 100 traffic crashes that found that 80% of car crashes and 65% of near-crashes were caused by distracted driving. Also, Virginia Tech’s research team studied tractor-trailer accidents and found that looking away from the road greatly increased the odds of a large truck wreck.

At the end of the day, all drivers, young and old, need to be alert and keep their eyes on the road while traveling, because a few seconds of distraction can cause fatal car wrecks, property damage, and serious bodily harm to auto crash victims.