close ad

Driven to Distraction: Teens Behind the Wheel

Other Distractions in the Car Take Their Toll

From her camera-in-car research, Klauer has seen kids do so many dangerous things—from changing clothes to putting in contact lenses—that nothing surprises her. Even listening to music can be distracting on several levels, according to Winston. "The song might take a teen's mind to an emotional place where she's dreamy or upset instead of focused on the road. Kids often crank up the volume and sing or dance along, which distracts the brain even more and makes a driver less likely to hear a siren or honking horn. Sometimes friends turn up a song that the driver doesn't like just to tease her—and then she's yelling in the car."

Additional passengers are a huge problem as well: Almost 70 percent of teens say they've seen people in the car "acting wild" while a friend was driving. Even one extra person in the car doubles the probability of a crash. Two or more? The crash risk for a young person escalates by a factor of five. "What happens is car piling," Winston says. "The driver offers to take a friend, but that friend asks him to drive another friend who wants to pick up someone else. Soon the car becomes like a party in your living room—a place to dance, fight, talk about upsetting things, and scream out the window." Of course kids don't fully comprehend these hazards: According to Allstate, 44 percent of teens admit they drive more safely alone, yet only 14 percent consider friends a big distraction.