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Teen Driver Deaths Up - Stats Point to Talking and Texting

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author photo by Autotrader May 2010

Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M have identified the likely reason for increasing numbers of fatal crashes by teen drivers at night: cell phone talking and texting.

While traffic fatalities have fallen in other categories, the number of teenagers killed while driving at night increased by ten percent in the last decade. Drunk driving, the usual bogeyman, isn't to blame, because the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities among teenagers driving at night fell, reported researcher Bernie Fette.

It isn't just teens who are crashing more at night; drivers 20 and older are crashing more in the dark too, but their increase was smaller than that of the novice drivers (and expert texters).

Because of spotty data on cell phone use and texting in the fatal crashes, the report finds a smoking gun that implicates those causes, but no direct evidence. "Other dominant risk factors for teenage drivers (lack of experience, additional teenage passengers, speeding, not wearing seatbelts, and alcohol) have been present and well-recognized for many years, long before cellular communications became prevalent," the report explained. "However, it is cell phone use – propelled by rapid technological advancement and increased affordability – that is likely the most notable new driving risk factor for contemporary teens."

Despite the challenges for teen drivers associated with night driving – reduced visibility, fatigue and unfamiliarity with driving in the dark – 20,000 young drivers surveyed by TTI failed to identify night driving as a hazard. Only 3 percent of the Texas teens quizzed by the Aggie researchers identified night driving as a risk, according to the report.

Fette said TTI is pursuing better information on the hazard posed by phone driving. "We have plans to continue our efforts to try to understand the problem."

A publicity campaign similar to that which helped reduce the incidence of drunk driving could be effective in reducing fatalities from phone driving, he said.

"Thanks to advocacy groups and Public Service Announcement advertising, the understanding that drunk driving is dangerous is very clear," Fette said. "We need to create that same level of understanding and awareness with regard to what is the number one danger."

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Teen Driver Deaths Up - Stats Point to Talking and Texting - Autotrader