Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens – one-third of those crashes involve a teen driver who had been drinking and ten percent of 15 to 19 year old drivers involved in a fatal crash were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. These statistics make the Journal of Adolescent Health Supplement “Driver Distraction: A Perennial but Preventable Public Health Threat to Adolescents” important and timely as we head into the prom and graduation season, May’s annual Global Youth Traffic Safety Month and the summer. The Supplement, sponsored by the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR), explores causes of distracted driving among our nation’s teens and the contributing researchers offer recommendations that are both useful and practical to help reduce the incidence of distracted driving among teens.
The Supplement opens with a letter from former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Ray LaHood who led the fight to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving among both youth and adults during his tenure from 2009 to 2013. Followed by ten peer-reviewed articles that explore a range of distracted driving topics from attention to peer and parental influence, to passenger distractions and intervention strategies such as bans on text messaging. With a focus on identifying the risk and protective factors, and designing effective interventions for novice drivers, the Supplement also reviews current literature and identifies future research needs.
· Pay Attention: Adolescence, Attention Allocation and Driving Safely examines distracted driving among teens from a developmental perspective, and indicates training that improves attention may help overcome the effects of inexperience and immaturity.
· Peer Influence: Neural Responses to Exclusion Predict Susceptibility to Social Influence investigates teens with the greatest neural reactivity may be the most susceptible to risk-taking behind the wheel while in the presence of peers.
· Parental Influence: Social Norms and Risk Perception: Predictors of Distracted Driving Behavior Among Novice Adolescent Drivers focuses on social influences and emphasizes the importance of role modeling by parents.
· Passenger Distraction:
o Peer Passenger Influences on Adolescent Drivers’ Visual Scanning Behavior During Simulated Driving presents the results of a simulator-based study, which suggests the presence of passengers increases crash risk by increasing the cognitive load on the teen driver, as evidenced by reduced scanning and situational awareness.
o Distracted Driver Behaviors and Distracting Conditions Among Adolescent Drivers: Findings from a Naturalistic Driving Study utilizes in-vehicle recordings to assess the impact of communication technologies and capabilities and peer distractions to determine their impact on inexperienced adolescent drivers.
o Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Young Driver Crash Risk Increases According to Duration of Distraction employs a variety of in-vehicle technologies, including cameras, GPS, accelerometer to observe novice driver distraction to reveal that the longer the duration of eye glances away from the forward motion of driving the higher risk of a crash.
Impact of Texting Ban: “The Impact of Michigan’s Text Messaging Restriction on Motor Vehicle Crashes” examines the impact of an intervention based strategy – Michigan’s text messaging restriction law – on crash rates among teen drivers.
Future Research Priorities: “Young Driver Distraction: State of Evidence and Directions for Behavior Change Programs” focuses on intervention strategies by identifying directions for future research based on a literature review and the examination of available evidence.
Free open access to the Supplement and all of these articles is available online courtesy of the generous support and commitment of FAAR to this important and pervasive problem on our roadways. FAAR supports the advancement of effective prevention policies and programs that address teen driver safety, including distracted and impaired driving. We trust this supplement and the information presented in it will serve as a valuable resource to those interested in this effort, most especially researchers, practitioners, lawmakers, parents, and teens.