Using social media or calling people while driving is a common sight nowadays but even the simplest distraction behind the wheel can put a young driver at risk.
A study has stated that dialling cell phones, checking SMSs, eating and talking to passengers - multi-tasking among teens while driving has raised the risk of crashes and/or near-crash incidents.
“Novice drivers are more likely to engage in high-risk secondary tasks more frequently over time as they became more comfortable with driving. The increasingly high rates of secondary task engagement among newly-licensed novice drivers are worrisome as this appears to be an important contributing factor to crashes or near-crashes,” warned Charlie Klauer, group leader for teen risk and injury prevention at the transportation institute's Center for Vulnerable Road User Safety in Virginia, US.
Traffic studies show that drivers from 15 years to 20 years of age represent 6.4 percent of all motorists on the road, but account for 11.4 percent of fatalities and 14 percent of police-reported crashes resulting in injuries, said the study conducted by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development.
“Any secondary task that takes the novice driver's eyes off the road increases risk. A distracted driver is unable to recognise and respond to road hazards, such as the abrupt slowing of a lead vehicle or the sudden entrance of a vehicle, pedestrian, or object onto the forward roadway,” added the study, published in the journal New England Journal of Medicine.
Klauer and her team compared the results of a one-year, 100-car study with drivers between 18 and 72 years of age with an average of 20 years' experience and an 18-month study of 42 teens who had drivers' licenses for less than three weeks.
Participants from both studies drove vehicles outfitted with data acquisition systems, including cameras and a suite of sensors which collected continuous video and driving performance data for the duration of both studies.
A secondary task was considered a contributing factor to any crash or near-crash event if it occurred within five seconds prior to or within one second after the event, said the study.
The data revealed that compared to experienced drivers, novice drivers engaged in secondary tasks less frequently during the first six months.
However, they matched experienced drivers between months seven and 15, and were engaged in non-driving tasks more often than experienced drivers during months 16 through 18 - a two-fold increase in risky distractions during the last three months of the study.
“Newly-licensed novice drivers are of course at a particularly high crash risk, in part because driving is a complicated task and novices tend to make more mistakes when learning a new task,” said Klauer.