With car crashes being the No. 1 killer of US teenagers, researchers at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety analyzed almost 2,000 videos from cameras mounted in vehicles that captured the actions of teen drivers in the moments right before an accident.
The study was unusual because researchers rarely have access to crash videos that show what drivers were doing in the seconds before an accident as well as what was happening on the road. AAA examined more than 6,842 videos from cameras mounted in vehicles, showing both the driver and the view out the windshield.
Thanks to the videos, the foundation found that distractions were a factor in nearly 60 percent of the moderate to severe teen crashes studied. That rate was more than four times the previous official estimates from police reports.
Distractions included texting and talking on cellphones, changing tunes on the radio and even grooming.
"The most common was talking to someone in the vehicle," said Robert Sinclair of AAA New York.
AAA said it hopes the findings of the study will make parents more aware of the magnitude of the problem and the potential for disaster.
In 2012, Aaron Deveau, then 18, became the first driver in Massachusetts to be convicted of vehicular homicide by texting. Prosecutors said Deveau was texting Feb. 20, 2011, when his vehicle swerved across the center line of a street and crashed head-on into Donald Bowley's truck, killing the 55-year-old father of three.
AAA is hoping to put the brakes on the trend. It's also urging states to pass laws prohibiting cellphone use by teen drivers and restricting passengers to one non-family member for the first six months. So far, 17 states and Washington, D.C., have passed the measures.