Drivers aren't watching the road about 10 percent of the time they are behind the wheel, according to a new distracted driving study from the National Institutes of Health and Virginia Tech.
Researchers used video technology and in-vehicle sensors to monitor about 150 drivers in the Washington, D.C., area and southwestern Virginia.
The study, published in the Jan. 2 New England Journal of Medicine, found that distracted driving was riskiest for newly licensed teen drivers, who were more likely than adults to be involved in a crash or near miss while texting or doing anything that took their eyes off the road.
Experienced adult drivers were more than twice as likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing a cell phone than when they did not dial and drive. But other tasks, such as eating or adjusting a seat belt, did not increase their risks of crashing or having a near miss.
However, distracted driving substantially increased the risks for new drivers. Compared to when they were focused on the road, novice teen drivers were:
- eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
- seven to eight times more likely when reaching for a phone or other object,
- almost four times more likely when texting, and
- three times more likely when eating.
Talking on a cell phone did not increase risk among the adult or teenage drivers, but reaching for a phone, answering or dialing did.
"Our data support the current trend in implementing restrictions on texting and cell phone use in vehicles," study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton said in a press statement. "As new forms of technology increasingly are available in cars, it's important that drivers don't feel compelled to answer every incoming call or text. For young drivers' safety, parents can model this habit when they are at the wheel, and also let their children know that they should wait until the vehicle is stopped before taking a call -- even when it's from mom or dad."
Previous studies show that about 6 percent of drivers are 15 to 20 years old, but are involved in 11 percent of accident deaths and 14 percent of crashes with injuries.