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Video study: Teen girls twice as likely as boys to text, talk while driving

By Posted : 03/27/2012

teen distracted drivingGirls are twice as likely as boys to use cellphones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel, according to an in-car video study released this week that offers a revealing look into the driving lives of teens.

The study, "Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers ," was issued by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and is based on video footage gathered by researchers at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center. Cameras installed in the cars of teens from 50 North Carolina families showed that the most common distractions were texting and talking on the phone while driving, eating and drinking, personal grooming, and fiddling with vehicle controls.

"This new study provides the best view we've had about how and when teens engage in distracted driving behaviors believed to contribute to making car crashes the leading cause of death for teenagers," Peter Kissinger, AAA foundation president and CEO, said in a statement.

The report is groundbreaking because the recorded footage is believed to be the first to specifically focus on teen drivers in both normal and challenging situations, according to the foundation.

"Researchers at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center identified the prevalence and consequences of various distracted driver behaviors and distracting conditions among teens during high g-force maneuvers such as swerving, hard braking, or rapid acceleration," according to the report..

Here are some of the study's key findings, based on nearly 8,000 video clips captured during a six-month period:

  • Use of electronic devices showed up in 7 percent of the video clips, making it the top distraction.
  • Other distractions, from grooming to eating and drinking, added up to 15 percent of the footage.
  • Many of the distracting behaviors -- including cellphone use -- were more prevalent with older teens, "suggesting rapid changes in these behaviors as teens get more comfortable behind the wheel," according to the AAA foundation.

Gender plays an intriguing role, as the research indicates that:

  • Besides using cellphones and other devices twice as often as teen boys, girls were nearly 10 percent more likely to become distracted while driving. The distractions included reaching for something (nearly 50 percent more likely to do this than the boys) and eating or drinking (nearly 25 percent more likely).
  • Teen boys, on the other hand, were roughly twice as likely to be distracted while swiveling to look behind them. They also were more likely to talk with people outside the car.

"The gender differences with regard to distraction observed in this study raise some points that we'll want to investigate in future projects," Kissinger said. "Every insight we gain into driver behavior has the potential to lead us to new risk management strategies."

Solo teen drivers more apt to use mobile devices

When teens have peers in the car, they are more likely to engage in boisterous behavior, according to the report.

"Loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely to occur when multiple teen peers -- -instead of just one -- were present," according to the report. "These distractions are particularly concerning, as they are associated with the occurrence of crashes, other serious incidents (such as leaving the roadway), and high g-force events."

However, when driving alone, teens use mobile devices and perform other distracting tasks more often. "Generally speaking, electronic device use and other distracted driver behaviors were most common when teens were carrying no passengers. Teen drivers used an electronic device in 8.1 percent of clips and engaged in other distracted behaviors in 16.9 percent of clips when driving alone," the report states.

Lynne McChristian, a spokesperson for the Florida wing of the Insurance Information Institute (III), says that it's smart for parents to keep teens safer by restricting the passenger list to one. It also makes good insurance sense because fewer distractions could lead to fewer accidents, which could lead to savings.

How to save on car insurance for your teen driver

McChristian has some other insurance savings tips for teen drivers:

  • Keep grades up. McChristian says students with at least a "B" average usually can qualify for discounts.
  • Take driving courses to hone skills. She notes that many insurers offer online classes, and teens who pass probably will receive a discount.
  • If you're getting your teen a car, look for one with as many safety features as possible. McChristian points out that buying a newer car may cost more to purchase, but it could pay off in the long run if it's safer to drive and results in fewer accidents.
  • Pay attention to your teen's driving habits -- keep up with your teen's progress, or lack of it. Parents should teach teens how to become better motorists even after they have a license, McChristian says.


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