Danger on the road: Speeding and texting while driving are two common but risky behaviors among teens, a new study finds.
Among teen drivers in the study, researchers found they drove over the speed limit on 40% of trips and held cellphones more than 30% of the time. In 5% of trips, teens sped and used their cellphones.
"We all want teen drivers to be safe on the road for themselves, their passengers and the people who share the road with them," said lead researcher Catherine McDonald, co-director of the PENN Injury Science Center at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, in Philadelphia. "We need to encourage safe driving and find ways to help prevent those risky driving behaviors like speeding and cellphone use that can lead to a crash."
For the study, McDonald and her colleagues used a cellphone app to track 165 teen drivers, average age 17, who had their driver's license for eight months. Most of the trips were short, less than 6 miles, and mostly took place during the day. Boys were more likely to use hard braking and rapid acceleration than girls were. These behaviors occurred about 10% of the time.
Still, no significant differences were seen between boys and girls when it came to speeding or cellphone use.
"The data from these teens gives us another way of observing driving behaviors beyond self-report," McDonald said. "Teens were speeding and using their cellphones while driving, but it did not occur on every trip. Better understanding the where and when of these driving behaviors may help us in advancing our interventions to reduce crash risk."
The findings are scheduled to be presented on Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting, in Anaheim, Calif. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director of external engagement at the Governors Highway Safety Association, said that it's not surprising that many teen drivers speed and use their phones.
"Cellphones are something that generationally they have grown up with, and it's very much a part of everything they do," she said. "They have appendages, arms, legs and cellphones, permanently attached to them."
Shadel Fischer believes that education and enforcement are both essential in getting teens not to speed and be distracted by their phones.
"Teens are less averse to risk, and so when you add speeding to that it can be very, very deadly," she said. "We need them to understand that and we need them to also understand distraction takes your focus off the road."
Teaching teens begins with parents, who need to set a good example of how to drive safely, she said.
Also, parents can set limits on driving and monitor behavior even by using smartphone apps that keep track of driving behaviors, Shadel Fischer added.
"Parents need to understand the risk for their teens and that teens more than any other age group account for a greater proportion of speeding-related fatalities, and we need parents to understand that so they can monitor and be actively engaged," she said.
In terms of enforcement, Shadel Fischer said, speeding laws and those covering cellphones need to be clear and equally enforced with penalties that are in line with other driving offenses. The idea is to get teens to think that speeding and using a cellphone are not worth the risk of being fined.
Cars and roads can also be made safer, she said. Many newer cars have sensors that alert drivers when they are drifting off the road. Devices can also prevent cars from driving over a predetermined speed and engage automatic emergency braking when following another car too closely.
Rumble strips and wider shoulders on roads are other ways to prevent fatal crashes, as can center median barriers and cable barriers, Shadel Fischer said. "The safe system approach gives me a lot of hope," she added.
For more on safe driving for teenagers, head to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
SOURCES: Catherine McDonald, PhD, co-director, PENN Injury Science Center, University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing, Philadelphia; Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director, external engagement, Governors Highway Safety Association; Oct. 9, 2022, presentation, American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting, Anaheim, Calif.