Study: Teens aware of driving risks, but still frequently take them

A significant number of teen drivers admitted that they had engaged in unsafe driving behaviors despite being aware of the risks, according to a wide-ranging survey by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

TTI recently compiled responses from 109,622 teen drivers over a 10-year period from 2007 to 2016. These drivers took part in Teens in the Driver Seat, a peer-to-peer traffic safety program and initiative of TTI. Responses were collected from participants in 11 states, including Connecticut.

Teens in the Driver Seat identifies distractions, driving at night, speeding, street racing, not wearing a seat belt, and driving under the influence as the most dangerous behaviors associated with driving or riding in a vehicle. The survey also analyzed how frequently teen respondents drove while fatigued, ran red lights, and carried passengers or rode with a teen driver without an adult in the vehicle.

Nine of the 20 behaviors that were most frequently cited by respondents as high-risk were related to distraction. Texting and talking on a phone while driving were the second and third most cited risk factors, respectively. Alcohol use was the most commonly cited risk factor, while failing to wear a seat belt was the fourth most commonly cited risk factor.

More than eight in 10 respondents said they had never driven after drinking alcohol, but 10.8 percent said they had sometimes or frequently driven after drinking in the 30 days prior to the survey. Another 7.8 percent of respondents left this question blank.

More than one-third of respondents—35.5 percent—said they had talked on a cell phone while driving. Just over one in three—34.1 percent—admitted to texting while driving in the month prior to the survey.

"The contrast between awareness and behavior is consistent with several other studies on this topic," said Russell Henk, founder of Teens in the Driver Seat and manager of TTI's Youth Transportation Safety Program. "As this new school year begins, the survey reminds us why TDS is so important in motivating young people to influence one another to drive more responsibly."

Most respondents said they wore their seat belt while driving, although 23 percent said they had driven without buckling up at least some of the time in the 30 days prior to taking the survey. Teens were more likely to say that passengers neglected to use a seat belt. Forty-six percent said they had ridden in a vehicle without fastening their seat belt, and 40.8 percent said they had driven passengers who didn't wear a seat belt.

While many states forbid teen drivers from carrying passengers, respondents frequently said they had driven passengers or ridden with a  teen driver who was not supervised by an adult. A total of 43.8 percent said they had driven passengers, while 54.4 percent said they had ridden in a vehicle with a teen driver.

"We knew teen drivers are at a greater crash risk and are distracted easily when they have lots of friends with them while driving," said Lisa Minjares-Kyle, associate transportation researcher at TTI. "Yet many don't recognize their peers as distractions to driving and nearly 50 percent self-reported riding and driving with peers, more than any of the other behaviors."

Few respondents admitted to speeding, with only 21.7 percent saying they had exceeded the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour. However, 26 percent of respondents didn't answer this question.

More than three in 10 respondents—30.7 percent—said they had driven after 10 p.m. without an adult present. Another 16.6 percent said they had run a red light.

While more than three-quarters of respondents said they never took part in street racing, 15.6 percent of respondents said they had. A total of 10.6 percent of respondents admitted that they had almost fallen asleep while driving.

Just over 88,000 of the survey responses came from Texas, but Connecticut had the third largest sample size in the study. A total of 3,336 responses were collected from six participating schools in the state.

Teen drivers in Connecticut were most likely to cite drinking and driving as the most dangerous risk factor. This was followed by talking on the phone while driving, speeding, texting while driving, and failing to wear a seat belt.

However, Connecticut respondents were more likely to admit to drinking before driving in the 30 days prior to the survey, with 14.3 percent saying they had done so. They also had a higher likelihood of speeding, with 30 percent admitting to doing so.

Teen drivers in Connecticut were also slightly more likely to admit to driving after 10 p.m. without adult supervision, with 32.7 percent saying they had done so. They were less likely to say they had participated in other dangerous activities, especially talking or texting while driving. However, 20.6 percent admitted to using a phone while behind a wheel and 20.7 percent said they had texted while driving.

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