Distracted driving among
adolescents: challenges and
With advancing technology, the distractions to which drivers
are exposed continue to increase. Seventy-two percent of indi-
viduals 18 years or older in the USA who own a cellphone
admitted to using it while driving.1Of particular concern, only
28% of adolescents in the 9th through 11th grades in the
USA responded that cellphone use while driving ‘made a lot
of difference’ in driving safety.2Distracted driving involves,
however, more than cellphones and is defined as any activity
that detracts from the primary task of driving; it falls under
the broader category of driver inattention, encompassing
other factors such as fatigue and heightened emotional states.
The three main types of distraction include visual (taking
one’s eyes off the road), manual (taking one’s hands off the
wheel) and cognitive (taking one’s mind away from the driving
One critical challenge with understanding and addressing the
extent of the problem of distracted driving is the limitation in
available data.3Although most states in the USA allow for
mention of driver distraction or inattention as a contributing
factor in police reports, inconsistencies remain in the level of
detail provided including the actual type of distraction. These
inconsistencies do hinder our ability to quantify the impact of
cellphones, text messaging and other electronic devices in motor
vehicle crashes (MVCs). Despite these limitations, distracted
driving was a factor in an estimated 1090748 MVCs in 2009 in
the USA, with an estimated 385910 of these MVCs involving
Driver inexperience coupled with the visual, manual and
cognitive distraction of cellphone use can be particularly
dangerous for adolescent drivers. Cellphones play a major role in
adolescents’ social lives, and parents may feel a sense of comfort
knowing that their children are only a phone call away. Cell-
phones can, however, result in slower reaction times to potential
hazards, regardless if handheld or hands free.5 6Texting while
driving is especially dangerous because it combines the three
main types of distraction.; Recently, researchers found, during
unobtrusive observations, that drivers dialling a cellphone were
2.8 times more likely to crash,6while a simulator study found
that those engaged in texting while driving were 6 times more
likely to crash than non-distracted drivers.7Overall, in the USA,
an estimated 1006 individuals died (138 adolescents)8and 23883
(4958 adolescents) were injured in MVCs involving cellphones in
A potential source of influence on adolescent risky driving could
be parents’ distracted driving behaviour. Data show that parental
driving behaviour can be predictive of adolescents’ aggressive
driving style.9Moreover, a recent pilot study of 43 parents of
novice drivers showed that, while driving, more than half the
parents reported talking on their cellphone, more than a third
reported reading texts and nearly 20% reported texting (D
Stavrinos, personal communication, 2011).
Increased motor vehicle safety was recently identified by
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the
major public health achievements of the 20th century.
Manufacturing of safer cars (eg, shatter-resistant windshields),
improvement of roadways (eg, edge and centerline stripes) and
changes in the drivers’ behaviour (eg, seat belt use) have
increased the safety of vehicular transportation. Yet, new tech-
nology can lead to changes in injury risk. It is the commitment
of the injury prevention community to conduct innovative
research and the translation of that research into practice which
can markedly reduce injury and its consequences.
As the adolescent distracted driver problem is tackled, new
opportunities for researchers, manufacturers and legislators will
emerge. To set appropriate prevention priorities, improved
surveillance of the frequency and nature of distracted driving is
necessary. New technologies such as cellphone mitigation
devices, which disable cellphones of individuals in the driver’s
seat, require evaluation. Determining the effectiveness of new
state laws on banning texting while driving, of parental educa-
tion regarding their role as models of appropriate driving prac-
tices and of driver education for teens that stress the danger of
cellphone use is an important element if we are to reduce
distracted driving among adolescents.
Annie A Garner,1Philip R Fine,1Crystal A Franklin,1
Richard W Sattin,2,3Despina Stavrinos1
1University of Alabama at Birmingham University Transportation Center, Birmingham,
Alabama, USA;2Department of Emergency Medicine, Georgia Health Sciences
University, Augusta, Georgia, USA;3Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury
Research, Washington, District of Columbia, USA
Correspondence to Annie A Garner, University of Alabama at Birmingham University
Transportation Center, CH-19 401, 1530 3rd Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35294-
2041, USA; email@example.com
Funding This work was partly supported by the US Department of Transportation
Research and Innovative Technology Administrative Award DTR06G0048. We would
like to thank Dr Andrea Underhill and Dr. Russell Griffin for their thoughtful reviews.
Competing interests None to declare.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.
Inj Prev 2011;-:1. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2011-040096
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Ishigami Y, Klein RM. Is a hands-free phone safer than a handheld phone? J Safety
Klauer S, Dingus T, Neale V, et al. The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash
Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data; US DOT Technical
Report DOT HS 810 594. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, 2006.
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Garner AA, Fine PR, Franklin CA, et al. Injury Prevention (2011). doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2011-040096
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