Distracted Driving Among Teens Threatens Public Health and Safety

Insights from Key Investigators Provide New Answers, Reports the Journal of Adolescent Health

Philadelphia, PA, April 17, 2014

Motor vehicle crashes rank as the leading cause of teen deaths and in 2008, 16% of all distraction-related fatal automobile crashes involved drivers under 20 years of age. These grim statistics, coupled with an increasing nationwide awareness of the dangers of distracted driving for all ages, prompted the publication of an important supplement to the Journal of Adolescent Health that explores the causes of distracted driving and offers practical recommendations to reduce the incidence of distracted driving among teens.

“Although public health efforts have made some progress in reducing risk of adolescent motor vehicle crashes over the last three decades, new technologies and evolving behavior patterns have focused attention on the risk of distracted driving,” observes Guest Editor C. Raymond Bingham, PhD, from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Ann Arbor, MI. “For many of the same reasons that alcohol-impaired driving represents a distinct risk for adolescents, distracted driving has an elevated impact on this age group. The unique challenge posed by the proliferation of new technological distractions may accelerate this risk behavior and may lend itself to innovative prevention efforts.”

The issues involved are not simple. While there are many different causes of distracted driving, the aim of the supplement is to take a broad view of the topic instead of focusing on the individual sources of distraction. The goal is to give researchers, practitioners, lawmakers, parents, and teens a better understanding of why distracted driving is a potentially deadly activity and steps that might be taken to reduce the number of crashes it causes.

An important issue for the public as well as legislators, former United States Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood comments, “This special Journal of Adolescent Health supplement brings the important issue of driver distraction and young drivers into focus. The articles presented cover a variety of the influences on young drivers’ distractibility and safety as well as the important influence of parents, peers, and technology. While there is no single (simple or quick) solution to this problem, this research can lay a substantive foundation for additional debate and informed and effective policies to address the complex problem of distracted driving among young drivers and the larger driving population as a whole.”

The supplement examines the issues surrounding distracted driving by teens, exploring developmental states and changes that are associated with adolescents’ distractibility and their relation to driving, examining patterns of distraction among newly licensed adolescents as well as brain function, considering the potential role played by parental modeling of distracted behavior while driving, accounting for the role of technology and the influence of peer passengers and society norms, and investigating policy, legislation, and intervention.

One of the ideas that the supplement highlights is that there are a multitude of complicated factors that result in teens being more vulnerable to the effects of distracted driving than other age groups. In the article “Adolescence, Attention Allocation, and Driving Safety,” by Daniel Romer, PhD, et al, the authors explore the explanations behind why teens fail to pay attention, including brain immaturity and lack of driving experience. Their review points to extensive new driver training as a way to help compensate for the unique problems teenage drivers face when it comes to focusing on the road.

Another issue the supplement addresses is what can specifically be done to prevent distracted driving among teens. “Young Driver Distraction: State of the Evidence and Directions for Behavior Change Programs,” by Lisa Buckley, PhD, et al, discusses different methods used to both educate and prevent distracted driving. While the authors argue that legislative and contextual interventions can be effective prevention strategies, they also recognize that there is an unmet need for behavioral change programs designed to pinpoint the most at-risk groups, identify their risk and protective factors, and then design effective interventions tailored to their specific needs.

Current evidence regarding laws to limit cell phone use for talking or texting that are now in place in many jurisdictions suggests that these laws are either ineffective or may have an unintended effect, according to Johnathon P. Ehsani, PhD, and co-authors in “The Impact of Michigan’s Text Messaging Restriction on Motor Vehicle Crashes.”

Dr. Bingham concludes, “In the near future, and perhaps for years to come, reducing driver distraction to increase roadway safety is going to be increasingly challenging. As automated functions increase in vehicles, drivers are likely to feel that their attention to the road is less necessary.” He continues, “Cultural attitudes and values and the public’s tolerance for distracted driving need to be targeted by informative and persuasive public health campaigns that make evident the need and create a public demand for individual behavior change.”

---

Notes for editors
Driver Distraction: A perennial but Preventable Public Health threat to Adolescents  
Guest Editor: C. Raymond Bingham, PhD, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, Ann Arbor, MI.

Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 54, Supplement 5S (May 2014), published by Elsevier.
It will be openly available at www.jahonline.org.

Table of Contents:
Editorial: Current Knowledge on Adolescent Driver Distraction
C. Raymond Bingham

Driver Distraction: A Perennial but Preventable Public Health Threat to Adolescents
C. Raymond Bingham

Adolescence, Attention Allocation, and Driving Safety
Daniel Romer, Yi-Ching Lee, Catherine C. McDonald, and Flaura K. Winston

Young Driver Distraction: State of the Evidence and Directions for Behavior Change Programs
Lisa Buckley, Rebekah L. Chapman, and Mary Sheehan

Neural Responses to Exclusion Predict Susceptibility to Social Influence
Emily B. Falk, Christopher N. Cascio, Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Joshua Carp, Francis J. Tinney Jr., C. Raymond Bingham, Jean T. Shope, Marie Claude Ouimet, Anuj K. Pradhan, and Bruce G. Simons-Morton

Social Norms and Risk Perception: Predictors of Distracted Driving Behavior Among Novice Adolescent Drivers
Patrick M. Carter, C. Raymond Bingham, Jennifer S. Zakrajsek, Jean T. Shope, and Tina B. Sayer

Peer Passenger Influences on Male Adolescent Drivers’ Visual Scanning Behavior During Simulated Driving
Anuj K. Pradhan, Kaigang Li, C. Raymond Bingham, Bruce G. Simons-Morton, Marie Claude Ouimet, and Jean T. Shope

Distracted Driver Behaviors and Distracting Conditions Among Adolescent Drivers: Findings From a Naturalistic Driving Study
Robert D. Foss and Arthur H. Goodwin

Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Young Driver Crash Risk Increases According to Duration of Distraction
Bruce G. Simons-Morton, Feng Guo, Sheila G. Klauer, Johnathon P. Ehsani, and Anuj K. Pradhan

The Impact of Michigan’s Text Messaging Restriction on Motor Vehicle Crashes
Johnathon P. Ehsani, C. Raymond Bingham, Edward Ionides, and David Childers

Full text of the articles is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or e.leahy@elsevier.com to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to interview C. Raymond Bingham or other authors should contact Francine Romine at +1 734 763 4668 or fromine@umich.edu.

About the Journal of Adolescent Health
The Journal of Adolescent Health is a multidisciplinary scientific journal that seeks to publish new research findings in the field of Adolescent Medicine and Health ranging from the basic biological and behavioral sciences to public health and policy. It is the official publication of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), a multidisciplinary organization committed to improving the health and well-being of adolescents. One of the Society's primary goals is the development, synthesis, and dissemination of scientific and scholarly knowledge unique to the health needs of adolescents. To meet this goal, the Society established the Journal of Adolescent Health in 1980.

According to the Journal Citation Reports®, published by Thomson Reuters, Journal of Adolescent Health has a 2012 Impact Factor of 2.966, and is ranked 11th of 121 journals in Pediatrics.

About Elsevier

Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Elsevier Research Intelligence, and ClinicalKey — and publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

The company is part of Reed Elsevier Group PLC, a world leading provider of professional information solutions in the Science, Medical, Legal and Risk and Business sectors, which is jointly owned by Reed Elsevier PLC and Reed Elsevier NV. The ticker symbols are REN (Euronext Amsterdam), REL (London Stock Exchange), RUK and ENL (New York Stock Exchange).

Media contact
Eileen Leahy
Elsevier
+1 732 235 3628
e.leahy@elsevier.com