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Is Distracted Driving to Blame for the Increase in Iowa Teen Driver Deaths?

In August, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released its preliminary version of the report Teenage Driver Fatalities by State. According to the report, 240 teen drivers aged 16 and 17 years old died in car accidents during first six months of 2012. This is an increase of 19 percent compared to 202 deaths during the same period in 2011.

A 19 percent jump may seem like a lot. But statistics can be misleading. During the same time period, teen accident deaths increased by 33 percent in Iowa. Let’s take a look at the math:

Number of 16– and 17-year-old drivers killed in car crashes, January to June 2011: 3

Number of 16– and 17-year-old drivers killed in car crashes, January to June 2012: 4

Increase: One person...or 33 percent

It’s pretty clear that increase is not statistically significant, to borrow a term from mathematics. Pure chance could have been responsible for the increased fatality rate. It would be wrong to think this one statistic demonstrates a trend.

The Importance of Teen Driving Deaths

However, teen driving deaths are a serious problem. The number of teen driving deaths has steadily increased, although fewer teens are getting their drivers’ licenses. According to AAA, only 54 percent of teens have their license by the age of 18. In 1993, 77 percent of teens were licensed.

Researchers from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center believe there are two factors that may explain the increase in teen driving deaths: texting and ADHD.

The scientists used a driving simulator to test the driving performance of 61 16– and 17-year-olds. About half of the participants had been diagnosed with ADHD. Each participant completed a 40-minute driving simulation while texting and talking on a phone. The researchers measured the driver’s speed and lane position during the test.

Texting significantly affected both speed and lane position for all study participants, but it had a greater effect on drivers with ADHD. The drivers with ADHD were prone to variability in speed and lane position even when there were no distractions present. When they texted, they doubled their already high risk of an accident.

The study was the first to examine the effects of texting on children with ADHD. The full study is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

There is no doubt that texting behind the wheel is dangerous. Whether or not a child has ADHD, parents should set clear rules about texting and driving. But rules aren’t enough. As many as 77 percent of teens feel that they can safely text and drive even though they aware of the risks. Make sure that there are clear consequences for breaking the rules. We recommend that you tell your teen that you will take away the car and cell phone if she texts while behind the wheel. This may seem harsh, but texting while driving is against the law.

The Iowa auto accident lawyers at Hupy and Abraham have seen too many lives affected by distracted drivers. We have created "DNT TXT N DRV" bumper stickers to help raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. To get your free sticker, fill out the request form or call Hupy and Abraham at 888-807-2752.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham