Young drivers who use hand-held cellphones while driving to text, talk or post on social media also exhibit other risky behaviors behind the wheel, according to a new study. Researchers from Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Center for Software, say talking or texting on a smartphone while driving correlates with a whole range of dangerous driving practices for many young, novice drivers – from driving while intoxicated to speeding, running red lights and passing other vehicles in an unsafe manner.
Researchers surveyed 700 young drivers in Germany about smartphone use and driving behavior. Their average age was 21. Germans are legally allowed to drive a car alone at age 18. The research essentially shows that a major issue with young drivers is driver distraction. Even though the study focused on young drivers in Germany, it may point to potentially risky behavior in other countries including the United States, researchers say.
The World Health Organization (WHO) calls car accidents the leading cause of death for people age 15 to 29. Smartphone use is a significant contributing factor, the study says. Study data showed a moderately strong correlation between driving about 12 mph over the speed limit in urban areas and talking on a cellphone. Also, a significant number of young drivers hid their phones while driving, deliberately disobeying the law, the European researchers said. And these attitudes could prove dangerous or even fatal not just for the young drivers themselves, but also others on the roadway.
Researchers found that a high percentage of young drivers used their phones to play music in the car. This means drivers often search for music or try to switch tracks when they are driving, which is extremely dangerous. Researchers say these types of behaviors may be much more distracting than just a phone call because changing music, for example, requires you to focus your eyes on the phone, take your hands away from the steering wheel and turn your attention away from the road.
Researchers say they would like to see big tech companies use sensors to block specific apps for young drivers when vehicles are moving. Automakers also have a role to play because building entertainment systems into vehicles sends the wrong message – encouraging young people to engage in distracting activities while driving. It is also important to continue PSAs that discourage dangerous behaviors such as speeding, drunk or drugged driving and distracted driving.
Graduated driver licensing laws that restrict teens from driving with other teens for a period of time can also help reduce the number of crashes. More than anything else, it’s crucial that parents model safe driving to their children. There is no question that modeling safe behavior can help create a new generation of safer driving.