Study: Distracted driving among Tennessee teens is worse than expected

Distracted driving among teenagers in Nashville and across the country is much more serious than originally thought.

Last year, the Tennessee Governor's Highway Safety Office worked with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reduce the incidence of distracted driving among teenagers. The campaign encouraged parents to talk to young drivers about the behavior. According to WREG, more than 100 people lost their lives in accidents that involved teenage drivers.

Raising awareness about teenage distracted driving is important, especially as a recent study points out that the behavior is even more dangerous than previously thought.

A risky behavior

The NHTSA previously estimated that distracted driving was a factor in approximately 14 percent of traffic accidents involving a teen driver, the AAA points out. However, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety conducted a study that determined that number is much higher. Researchers reported the following regarding teen driver crashes classified as moderate to severe:

  • Distractions were involved in 58 percent of all such crashes.
  • Distractions were involved in 76 percent of rear-end crashes.
  • Distractions were involved in 89 percent of all road-departure crashes.

The foundation reports that these findings reflect numbers that are four times as high as what police report estimates surmise.

Types of distractions

The study involved placing cameras inside vehicles and then analyzing what happened in the six seconds leading up to an accident. Researches stated that the most common type of distraction occurred when the teen driver was interacting with at least one passenger. Other items that took the driver's focus off the road included grooming, cellphone use, dancing to music, reaching for something in the car and looking at something either in or out of the vehicle.

What Tennessee is doing

In Tennessee, the law prohibits anyone with a learner's permit or intermediate license from using either a handheld or hands-free device. These laws may be enforced on a primary basis, which means a law enforcement officer can pull over and ticket a driver simply based on viewing the behavior.

Tennessee also has a detailed graduated license program that encourages teenagers to learn safe driving behaviors. Drivers with a learner's permit have to have a licensed adult in the vehicle at all times and are not allowed to drive between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. People who hold an intermediate license are subject to certain passenger restrictions. For example, they may only transport siblings to school or just one passenger unless there is a licensed adult 21 or older in the vehicle. Intermediate license holders are also subject to curfew with few exceptions for employment, hunting or fishing, a school activity or the presence of an adult who is 21 or older.

It cannot be argued that distracted driving for motorists of any age is a real and serious threat. People who have questions about Tennessee's laws or what to do following an accident should consult with an attorney.

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