Study: Teens get the message about distracted driving — kind of

The dangers of distracted driving have been well publicized in recent years, and most West Virginia motorists have received the message that texting and driving can be a lethal combination. Though many drivers fail to heed those warnings, the latest research shows that anti-texting laws and awareness campaigns are having some effect, but that other forms of distracted driving - some of them surprising - are becoming increasingly common.

A study published recently in the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security found that about four out of 10 teenagers surveyed report texting while driving. Although still a far cry from total elimination of the dangerous habit, the study's authors say their findings show a decline from previous studies.

The results of the study suggest that today's teens are becoming better not only at recognizing the risks created by texting while driving, but also at modifying their behavior to incorporate that knowledge. This is significant because previous studies have often shown an awareness of the risk without a corresponding change in behavior.

Behind-the-wheel wardrobe changes are risky, too

However, the study also suggests a troubling disconnect when it comes to engaging in other distracting activities while driving, some of which may be just as hazardous as texting on a handheld phone. For example, more than one-fourth of teens surveyed said they sometimes change their shoes and clothes behind the wheel. Others admitted to putting on makeup, changing contact lenses and even doing homework while driving.

Troublingly, many of the young drivers who participated in the study seemed unaware that these and other distracting activities are also dangerously distracting and can increase the risk of being involved in a . With that in mind, the study's lead author suggests that driver education should be geared toward teaching new drivers to avoid multitasking in general, whether or not it involves a cellphone.

Distractions affect inexperienced drivers more

Distracted driving - caused by cellphone use and a wide range of other distractions - is one of the biggest causes of traffic accidents among drivers of all ages. Research has shown, however, that teenage drivers may pose an even greater risk than adults when they engage in on-the-road multitasking.

A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that teens engaged in non-driving tasks like eating or talking to passengers increase their risk of accidents by a larger factor than adults engaging in the same activities. The authors of that study suggest that experience is a likely factor in the discrepancy, and that older drivers are less affected by the distractions because they have had more time to develop their driving skills.

In West Virginia, distracted drivers can be held financially liable to those who are hurt when they cause accidents. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a crash with a distracted or otherwise negligent driver, contact Cyrus & Adkins, Attorneys at Law, to learn about your legal rights and the options that are available for pursuing compensation.

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