The New England Journal of Medicine recently released a study entitled “Distracted Driving and Risk of Crashes Among Novice and Experienced Drivers,” which sought to determine the reasons why traffic accident rates are higher among new drivers.
Dr. Charlie Klauer, the first author of the article and the head of the Teen Risk and Injury Prevention (TRIP) Group at Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, and her team compared the results of a 100-car study of drivers between 18 and 72 years of age with an average of 20 years’ experience to the results of an 18-month study of 42 teens who had drivers’ licenses for less than three weeks. Participants from both studies drove vehicles outfitted with the same data acquisition systems developed at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which collected continuous video and driving performance data.
As Dr. Klauer explained, “This study is the first report of its kind to objectively assess the degree to which engagement in tasks other than driving contributes to novice drivers’ crashes and near-crashes, and to compare the results to the impact of such distractions on more veteran drivers… We are working on preventing the leading cause of death in people under 35 years old, crashes.”
The team found that dangerous distractions for new drivers include cell phone use, reaching away from the steering wheel, looking at something alongside the road, and eating. All these actions were statistically significant as distractions for the less experienced drivers. As Dr. Klauer notes, “Any secondary task that takes the novice driver’s eyes off the road increases risk. A distracted driver is unable to recognize and respond to road hazards, such as the abrupt slowing of a lead vehicle or the sudden entrance of a vehicle, pedestrian, or object onto the forward roadway.”
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