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Health & Parenting

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Survey: Teens Driving Distracted, Fast

Emotions of Teenage Drivers Play a Role in Dangerous Driving Behaviors
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 25, 2007 -- The vast majority of teens regularly drive while distracted by other passengers, cell phones, and other factors, suggest the results of an insurance industry survey released Wednesday.

Ninety percent of all teens said their friends drive while using a mobile phone, either to talk or send text messages. An equal number say their friends speed.

The idea that teens are prone to driving distracted and at high rates of speed is not surprising. But researchers said they’re beginning to understand teens’ emotions may play a significant role.

'Deadly Mix' of Emotions

Flaura K. Winston, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says teens with new licenses have usually not learned to control both positive and negative emotions. That can be annoying to adults at home, but to teens behind the wheel it can constitute a “deadly mix,” she says.

“It distracts them. It makes them not make these good decisions,” says Winston, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention, which conducted the study.

The survey asked 5,665 high school students about their driving behaviors and the driving behaviors of their friends. Ninety percent said they’ve seen friends drive while distracted by other teens in the car. Beyond that, teens love to speed.

“Speed is like a drug,” says Steve Arends, who suffered a severe brain injury in a crash that killed his twin brother when they were 17 years old in 2003. “It’s just terrible how addictive speed is when you get in that zone."

Winston says one in five teens surveyed said they had already been in a crash. Overall, 16- to 19-year-old drivers have a crash fatality rate four times higher than adults over 25, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The study was paid for by State Farm Insurance, which is lobbying for uniform graduated licensing laws nationwide that restrict new drivers’ ability to drive with passengers or at night.

“As a business issue, it is something we really want to address,” said Laurette Stiles, the company’s vice president.

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