New AAA Research Shows Distraction a Factor in Nearly 60 Percent of Teen Crashes

Study reveals distraction-related crashes are four times higher than previous official estimates

DENVER, March 25, 2015 – An unprecedented video analysis conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen auto crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously has estimated that distraction is a factor in only 14 percent of all teen driver crashes.

Researchers analyzed nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle event recorders featuring the six seconds leading up to a crash. The results showed that distraction was a factor in 58 percent of all crashes studied, including 89 percent of road-departure crashes and 76 percent of rear-end crashes.

The most common forms of distraction leading up to a crash by a teen driver included:

  • Interacting with one or more passengers – 15 percent of crashes
  • Cell phone use – 12 percent of crashes
  • Looking at something in the vehicle – 10 percent of crashes
  • Looking at something outside the vehicle – 9 percent of crashes
  • Singing/moving to music – 8 percent of crashes
  • Personal grooming – 6 percent of crashes
  • Reaching for an object – 6 percent of crashes

“Access to crash videos has allowed us to better understand the moments leading up to a vehicle impact in a way that was previously impossible,” said Peter Kissinger, President and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “The in-depth analysis provides indisputable evidence that distracted teenage drivers are a much bigger problem than we thought.”

Teenagers have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. About 963,000 drivers age 16-19 were involved in police-reported crashes in 2013, the most recent year of available data. These crashes resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.

Researchers found that drivers manipulating their cell phone (includes calling, texting or other uses) had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 out of the final six seconds leading up to a crash. The researchers also measured reaction times in rear-end crashes and found that more than 50% of teen drivers using a cell phone failed to react at all before the impact, meaning they crashed without even attempting to brake or steer to avoid collision. In Colorado, any driver under the age of 18 is prohibited from using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.

“Parents play a critical role in preventing distracted driving,” says AAA CEO Bob Darbelnet. “AAA recommends that parents teach teens about the dangers of cell phone use while driving and restrict passengers during the learning-to-drive phrase. We recommend that they create a parent-teen driving agreement that includes strict ground rules related to distraction.”

Previous research has shown that risky behaviors generally increase for 16- and 17-year-old drivers with more teen passengers in the car. In Colorado, no passengers under age 21 are permitted until the driver holds a valid driver’s license for at least six months, and then only one passenger under age 21 is permitted until the driver holds a valid driver’s license for at least one year (siblings and passengers with medical emergencies excepted in both cases). Additionally, no more than one passenger is permitted in the front seat of a vehicle, and the number of passengers in the back seat must not exceed the number of seat belts. For tips and ideas to better prepare teens for drivering, visit

Established by AAA in 1947, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, publicly-supported charitable educational and research organization. Dedicated to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads, the Foundation’s mission is to prevent crashes and save lives through research and education about traffic safety. The Foundation has funded over 200 research projects designed to discover the causes of traffic crashes, prevent them and minimize injuries when they do occur. Visit for more information on this and other research.