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The first sentence of a 2015 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety factsheet on teens and distracted driving highlights the need to reduce all causes of car crashes involving drivers younger than 20: “963,000 drivers ages 16-19 were involved in police-reported motor vehicle crashes in 2013, which resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.” And while it should come as no surprise that a significant number of those serious and fatal wrecks resulted from driver distraction, the scope of the problem may shock many people.

A foundation-sponsored study of teenaged drivers conducted over six years and involving real-world traffic situations revealed that 58 percent of young drivers became distracted shortly before crashing. Researchers equipped cars, SUVs and pickup trucks with cameras that taped drivers and traffic conditions in front of the vehicles in actual time. A brief edit of the footage available on YouTube shows teens texting, talking on cell phones, eating, applying makeup, nodding off and concentrating on passengers just before wrecking. The most common distracted driving accidents were running off the road and overcorrecting, rear-end collisions, and sideswipes, which researchers called angle crashes.

AAA officials emphasize the role parents, law enforcement officers and teachers–particularly driver’s ed instructors–must play in instilling new and inexperienced drivers with strong habits of remaining focused behind the wheel. Too many children are having too many wrecks just because they take their minds and eyes off the road.

My Virginia and North Carolina personal injury and wrongful death law firm colleagues and I have had to help too many victims of those crashes. While we do not have the final answer regarding what to tell teens to get them to avoid distractions while driving and inflicting sometimes fatal or disabling injuries, we do know that responsible adult who young drivers trust need to repeat all manner of anti-distracted driving messages at every opportunity. Implementing this model driver education curriculum from the National Highway Transportation Administration could be a good way to start.


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