For Teen Drivers, Distractions Can Be as Deadly as Drinking

Jan. 25, 2007 — -- Car accidents are the No. 1 killer of teenagers in the United States, and teens who drive with other teens stand a greater chance of having a fatal accident than those who drive alone, a new study says.

While many teens are aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, other distractions can be just as deadly, according to the study released today.

The study, which surveyed more than 5,000 high school students, found the following:

90 percent of teens said friends in the car distracted the driver

89 percent of teens said their friends used cell phones while they drove

79 percent of teens said passengers or the driver danced and sang in the car

20 percent of ninth- through 11th-graders have been involved in at least one crash as a passenger in the last year

"The message that teens have gotten is that drinking and driving are a problem, but it's so much more than that. Distractions are huge," said Dr. Flaura Winston of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia,

Winston conducted the study along with State Farm Insurance.

Talk to Teens to Prevent Accidents

Some teens speak up to prevent their friends from getting into accidents.

"A lot of times I drive with one of my friends, and she will be sitting there text messaging. And you know I tell her -- don't," Elisa Asencio said.

Because teens are prone to listen to each other, that's a good move.

"As a parent with three children, I know that teens listen to other teens," said Laurette Stiles of State Farm Insurance.

Groups like the Ad Council hope teens also listen to commercials. New TV ads out today encourage teens to combat reckless driving.

While teens might get advice from ads and their peers, the study found that opinions mattered, too.

More than half of the teens surveyed said their parents had helped teach them how to drive and nearly two-thirds said that their parents' opinion about cell phone use mattered to them.

The study also says that nationwide changes in licensing laws could reduce the number of teen driving deaths. A graduated system that delays a full-privilege driver's license until young drivers gain enough experience to drive safely in dangerous conditions could make teens safer.