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How dangerous is distracted driving for teen drivers?

Students in Butler and surrounding counties are enjoying the last gasps of summer before facing the challenges of another school year. As many of them are newly-minted Pennsylvania drivers — and still others will be climbing in to the school systems' Driver's Ed vehicles for a semester of hands-on instruction — it's a good time to focus on the problem of distracted driving by teens.

It's more than texting

Certainly texting while driving is foolhardy and extremely dangerous. When drivers send or read texts, their eyes are diverted from the road for up to five seconds. It can be compared to driving a football field from end zone to end zone, doing 55 mph. A whole lot can go wrong.

But distracted driving involves engaging in any activities behind the wheel that are unrelated to driving. These activities can include — but are not limited to — the following:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Conversing on a mobile phone
  • Adjusting the radio or GPS device
  • Talking to passengers

Any behavior besides eyes-on-the-road, hands-on-the-wheel driving raises the accident risk and jeopardizes the safety of everyone in the vehicle and in close proximity on the road.

Alarming statistics

In the United States, more teenagers die in accidents involving a teen driver than any other way. Most of the fatal collisions happen not from risky, "thrill-seeking" behavior behind the wheel but from distractions affecting the inexperienced driver's ability to safely navigate the road.

The National Young Driver Survey, conducted in 2007 by Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, determined that one-fifth of high school juniors had at least one reported accident in the last year. Of that total, five percent of the teen drivers had multiple collisions.

The same survey revealed that collisions happen more frequently with this age demographic than any others in America. Furthermore, one out of every fourth traffic death involves someone age 16-24. That figure is almost double that of other age demographics.

Two years later in 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 3,242 teens between 15 and 19 died in auto accidents. The deadliest period appears to be the initial six months following the day when 16- and 17-year-olds get their driving licenses.

It's not just the driver who is at risk

In one single year studied by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, 60 percent of teen passenger fatalities happened in automobiles where another teen was driving.

The three primary factors for fatal collisions are failing to use seat belts and other safety devices, teens behind the wheel and roads where the speed limit is 45 miles per hour or more.

How best to mitigate these statistics?

Parents can keep the lines of communication open with their teens, discussing the perils of distracted driving along with its consequences and repercussions. Parents should also model good driving habits for their teens to mirror.

Ask your teen to sign a pledge against driving while distracted and to encourage their friends to do the same.

If you were injured in a collision involving a distracted driver, make sure that you understand all of the options you have to seek restitution from the at-fault driver and his or her auto insurance company.

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