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Distracted Driving a Real Risk for Washington Teenagers

Motor vehicle accident statistics for Washington state teens are grim. Drivers aged 16 to 19 years old are overrepresented in fatal car accidents. According to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), in 2009, 16-to-19-year-olds accounted for 4.2 percent of the state's drivers but were involved in 9.1 percent of fatal car accidents. WTSC statistics also show that from 2004-2008, teen drivers were involved in 255 fatal car accidents and one of the most common causes of the crashes was distracted driving. Teens need to understand the dangers of distracted driving - especially cell phone use - and follow a few simple tips to reduce the likelihood of serious accidents.

Dangers of Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) defines distracted driving as "any non-driving activity a person engages in that has the potential to distract him or her from the primary task of driving and increase the risk of crashing." The DOT categorizes distractions as follows:

  • Visual: things that take the driver's eyes off the road
  • Manual: things that take the driver's mind off of the task of driving
  • Cognitive: things that cause the driver to remove his or her hands from the steering wheel

Common examples of driving distractions include cell phone use, eating or drinking, emotional situations, adjusting the radio, reading maps and using Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Using a cell phone while driving is perhaps one of the most common and most dangerous distractions, as it falls into all three of the distraction categories: the driver takes his or her eyes off the road and hands off the wheel to dial or answer the phone and is concentrating on the conversation instead of driving.

National statistics about distracted driving reveal the dangers that it poses. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, 20 percent of all accidents in 2009 involved distracted driving and 18 percent of fatal accidents that year involved a driver using a cell phone. NHTSA statistics also indicate that drivers under 20 years old are the most likely age group to drive distracted, as 16 percent of drivers under 20 years old involved in fatal accidents were distracted while driving.

Teenaged drivers are involved in more crashes as a result of distracted driving than any other age group because they lack the experience and skill that comes from many years of driving. When teens add distraction to inexperience, fatalities can result.

Tips for Teen Drivers

By following a few simple tips, teen drivers can keep themselves and fellow motorists safer while on the road:

  • Keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times
  • Adjust seats and controls prior to starting the car so there is no need to do so while driving
  • Keep in an alert posture to ensure rapid reaction time
  • Shut off cell phones and stow them away to avoid being tempted to use them while driving
  • Do not speed and adjust speed and following distance according to weather and road conditions

Driving is a privilege that many teenagers cherish. However, sometimes the freedom of the road leads teens to be less careful than they should be and tragedies result. Following safety rules can help prevent those accidents.