I recently ran into a friend’s daughter, 17, and was surprised to see her wearing a neck brace. “I had a car accident,” she said. “I ran into a car in front of me.” “How did that happen?” I asked. She laughed a little and replied, “I was trying to swat at a fly.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver distractions are the leading cause of most car accidents. In fact, it’s believed that as many as 80% of crashes were a result of some level of driver distraction. Unfortunately, teenagers have an even higher risk of being involved in a car accident as a result of a distraction. Not only do they have less experience at driving in general, but a teenager’s brain is less developed than an adult’s brain leading to poorer decisions by teenagers. In fact, a study published by the Journal of Neuroscience states that the brain does not fully develop until people are in their twenties and even early thirties in some cases.
So, it is imperative that we continue to push the message to the young drivers we know: Distractions while driving can have serious consequences. Driving requires our full attention because it involves constant and complex coordination of our mind and senses. We need our eyes on the road, our hands on the wheel, and our mind clear and focused to make split second decisions while driving. Unfortunately, distractions are everywhere. So anytime a situation affects our eyes, hands or mind, we are at risk of having a car accident. Moreover, a distraction as short as 3 seconds is enough to send us in the wrong direction, literally. Here are common activities that I have witnessed drivers do, sometimes even at freeway speeds, or in heavy traffic:
- Using a cell phone (with or without a hands free device). In fact, did you know the use of a hands-free device does NOT lower distraction levels? Actually, the percentage of car accidents attributed to manipulating the phone is almost identical to the number of crashes associated with just listening or talking.
- Reaching for a moving object (or insect, in my friend’s example) inside the car
- Looking (more like staring) at something outside the car
- Putting makeup, or shaving, or grooming
- Goofing around with friends
- Arguing (yes, getting angry or agitated also reduces your ability to focus on the road)
I’m sure you have your share of crazy distractions you have observed, perhaps even participated in. Unfortunately for our young friends, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for 15-20 year olds. And we cannot just blame parents, or irresponsible attitudes of these kids. Their brains are not fully developed yet. They are still immature, lack driving experience, are overconfident and plain and simple, cannot focus as easily. So we must constantly remind them of the dangers of driving distractions, and continue to give them this advice:
- Stay Focused
- Pay Attention
- Expect the unexpected
- California DMV
About the Author: As a San Diego attorney, Deon Goldschmidt has been protecting the rights of car accident victims for more than 20 years. He works for San Diego Personal Injury Attorneys.