New Study on Teen Driver Crashes

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A new study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety dissects why teenagers crash. The study analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in videos of 1,700 crashes by teen drivers. It found that distraction was a factor in nearly six out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. Michelle Donati-Grayman of AAA Arizona will discuss the unique study.

Ted Simons: A new study by the Triple-A Foundation for Traffic Safety looks at the moments leading up to car accidents caused by teenaged drivers, it should come as no surprise that distraction was a main factor in the accidents. Here to talk about this unique study is Michelle Donati-Grayman of Triple-A Arizona. Thank you for being here.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: This is naturalistic data. Talk about the survey, talk about the data.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: In this groundbreaking study Triple-A put cameras in the cars with teens and researchers analyzed the final six seconds leading up to a crash. We wanted to know what teens were doing in those very final seconds leading up to a crash. We looked at nearly 1700 videos and what they found was distraction was a factor in nearly six out of 10 moderate to severe crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The previous estimates put distract as a fair and accurate in 14% of crashes. Our research indicates this is a much bigger problem than we previously realized.

Ted Simons: We watched the videos. How do you get the camera in there? Were these kids likely to get into a crash?

Michelle Donati-Grayman: We put cameras in -- the Triple-A Foundation for Traffic Safety, we conduct research throughout the year on a variety of issues from teens to seniors and really everyone in between that's on the road or a road user. Those are our teens that willingly their families put these cameras in their vehicle so that we could learn from them. And it ultimately helps to improve road safety. That's the premise of why we do this work to, make roads safer for everyone.

Ted Simons: The driver on the right side of the screen and what happened on the road on the left side. Every single one of these, the kid is looking down at something.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: Or looking away from the road. The most prevalent factors in crashes according to our study, passengers were a big one. Cell phones were a big one. A teen looking at something in the vehicle. You may not see what they are looking at, it may be something outside of the vehicle. They were singing, moving to music, grooming or reaching for an object. But the two most prevalent factors, passengers were a factor in 15% of crashes and cell phones were a factor in 12%.

Ted Simons: And most of these incidents there's a lone driver. But I'm also noticing that again when you're not looking and then you look up and say, hey, I'm halfway off the road, there starts to be overreaction and all sorts of things happening here.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: This video will make you cringe. You want to make them stop, you don't want to see the crash. You see them veer off the road and realize what's about to happen, and overcorrect and ultimately the crash. The study found that teens using their cell phones had their eyes off the road for 4.1 seconds on average out of those final six seconds.

Ted Simons: This young lady, I don't think she looked up until she was halfway up the hill.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: That's something else we found in rear end crashes. Teens failed to react more than 50% of the time when on their cell phones. They didn't brake, steer, they didn't know what they were going to hit or what was going to hit them until the collision occurred.

Ted Simons: I think we see what's happening here with this situation. And 12% using a cell phone. This is all stuff kids like to do. How do you get the message out there to knock it off?

Michelle Donati-Grayman: Well, you know, this study, one of the ways that Triple-A will use this study is to look at our graduated driver's licensing law and determine, do we have laws that adequately protect our teen drivers. In Arizona our law currently does have a passenger component. That's a good thing, we do address passengers in our GDL law. But it does lack something that would prohibit cell phones or a wireless device. There's a bill lobbied at this session, House bill 2343, our leaders failed to act on that one. We will use this to further discuss and education leaders on the necessity of strengthening our law so we can make Arizona roads safer for everyone.

Ted Simons: We've talked about this before. One thing we saw a couple of them with their cell phone here, but you can't buy a new car without a Bluetooth, hands free kind of situation. There's not that much difference, research shows?

Michelle Donati-Grayman: We've found the cognitive distraction is even greater than the cell phone. The cell phone in and of itself is not the thing that's distracting, it's the conversation. You're right, you can't buy a car today without the added technology that gives that you hands free ability. But you can turn it off. We're encouraging parents not wait for our leaders act and to strengthen or GDL law. Don't let your teen become a statistic. We're urging leaders to act on this and we will be using them next session. It affects everyone on the road that that teen may come in contact with. It impacts you on your way to or from work, cyclists, joggers, families walking. Anyone for that teen to come in contact with, this is an issue that directly impacts them. We need address it as state to make Arizona roads safer for everyone.

Ted Simons: And this survey, I know they have done surveys like this with maybe a smaller sample size.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: There were 1700 videos that our researchers analyzed. This is a first of its kind study. We've looked at studies involving teens and distractions before but this is the first study where we've put cameras in the car with teens to analyze what they were doing those seconds. The findings from this study versus findings from previous studies is this problem was severely under recorded. When a teen was involved in a crash in a police report, the teen may have thought they were going get in trouble and they weren't 100% honest about what they were doing. Or maybe they didn't realize what they were doing was a distraction. Maybe they didn't realize the passenger next to them was a distraction that caused the crash.

Ted Simons: Something as simple as fiddling with the radio. I think one of these kids was messing with a CD and next thing you know he's on our program as evidence.

Michelle Donati-Grayman: Singing along to music, moving along to music, all of those things. There are so many distractions in vehicles. The two biggest pieces from this one, passengers and cell phones. Arizona law does address the passenger right now but we don't have the cell phones. That's the next biggest one Triple-A is looking to tackle as an advocacy organization.

Ted Simons: Are lawmakers at least listening? Is it close?

Michelle Donati-Grayman: There's overwhelming public support. Now we have added research. This is what we will be focusing on next session. If we focus on it this time, we will do it next year as well with the added weight behind us.

Ted Simons: Very interesting stuff. Good to have you here, thanks for joining us. Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" the latest on bill signings and vetoes in our weekly legislative update. And Bob Boze Bell tells us about his book, "True West Moments." That's 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Michelle Donati-Grayman:AAA Arizona;

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