Transportation & Vehicle Safety Policy

Using event-triggered naturalistic data to examine the prevalence of teen driver distractions in rear-end crashes

Carney, C.; Harland, K.K.; McGehee, D.V.
Jan-06-2016

Abstract

Introduction

While teen driver distraction is cited as a leading cause of crashes, especially rear-end crashes, little information is available regarding its true prevalence. The majority of distraction studies rely on data derived from police reports, which provide limited information regarding driver distraction.

Method

This study examined over 400 teen driver rear-end crashes captured by in-vehicle event recorders. A secondary data analysis was conducted, paying specific attention to driver behaviors, eyes-off-road time, and response times to lead-vehicle braking.

Results

Among teens in moderate to severe rear-end crashes, over 75% of drivers were observed engaging in a potentially distracting behavior. The most frequently seen driver behaviors were cell phone use, attending to a location outside the vehicle, and attending to passengers. Drivers using a cell phone had a significantly longer response time than drivers not engaged in any behaviors, while those attending to passengers did not. Additionally, in about 50% of the rear-end crashes where the driver was operating/looking at a phone (e.g., texting), the driver showed no driver response (i.e., braking or steering input) before impact, compared to 10% of crashes where the driver was attending to a passenger.

Conclusions

The high frequency of attending to passengers and use of a cell phone leading up to a crash, compounded with the associated risks, underlines the importance of continued investigation in these areas.

Practical applications

Parents and teens must be educated regarding the frequency of and the potential effects of distractions. Additional enforcement may be necessary if Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) programs are to be effective. Systems that alert distracted teens could also be especially helpful in reducing rear-end collisions.