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Study finds teen drivers are distracted by more than texts

If asked to identify some of the most dangerous driving habits among teens, there's a good chance most people would identify things like driving under the influence, speeding and, of course, distracted driving.

While it's true that all of these are factors in fatal motor vehicle accidents involving teen drivers, distracted driving remains one of the single biggest threats. If you don't believe it, consider that statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that ten percent of drivers between the ages of 15 to 19 involved in fatal collisions were found to be distracted in 2013, the largest percentage among all age groups.

While distracted driving among teens is usually synonymous with texting while driving, a recently released study by researchers with Students Against Destructive Decisions and Liberty Mutual Insurance found that the danger posed by smartphones has perhaps evolved beyond texting.

Indeed, the study found that while 27 percent of surveyed teens confessed to texting while driving, an astounding 68 percent confessed to using apps -- the ubiquitous downloadable small games or programs -- while driving.

The researchers made the following additional findings among the surveyed teens, all of which were equally shocking:

  • Almost 80 percent of teens implicitly believed that using apps while behind the wheel is not distracted driving.
  • 64 percent of teens believed that using music apps while driving is dangerous, yet 46 percent admitted to using them while behind the wheel.
  • 41 percent of teens believed that using music apps while driving is dangerous, yet 58 percent admitted to using them while behind the wheel.

The researchers theorized that the reason teen drivers create this seemingly artificial distinction between texting and using apps while driving may have to do with the perception of the apps as "utilities," meaning they somehow aren't as dangerous given that they can help fulfill an actual objective.

The flaws in this logic become apparent, however, when you stop to consider that just like sending a text message, actions like changing a song and searching for a station or entering a location or checking directions can all take a driver's eyes away from the road ahead.

"Any behavior that takes your eyes and focus off the road, even for mere seconds, can impair your ability to react to hazards and other vehicles," said one research scientist. "It's not the apps themselves that are dangerous, but how ... our teens interact with them while behind the wheel."

As alarming as this study is, the researchers did suggest that parents can help mitigate the risks of their teens engaging in this and other forms of distracted driving by asking them to keep their smartphones out of reach while driving, reinforcing the importance of mapping out destinations before leaving, and having a conversation in which expectations for driving are set.

If you have been seriously injured in a crash caused by a distracted driver, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your rights and your options for seeking justice. 

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