Distracted driving – vulnerable groups

Apart from the deaths and debilitating injury statistics noted, statistics establishing young drivers as the most vulnerable group have further implications for the future productivity of the population. According to the NHTSA (2009b, p.1) report the age group most affected by distracted driving is those under 20 years of age, with 16 percent of crashes involving this group being attributed to distracted driving. Such a situation is amplified by the observation that the leading cause of death for 3-34 year olds in the U.S is motor crashes (Strayer, 2007, as cited in NSC 2010a). An earlier study had noted that drivers aged between 18 to 21 years were more likely to use distracting devices such as the mobile phone while driving than other groups (Lam, 2002). In this study though all drivers were more prone to in-vehicle distractions than distractions originating outside the vehicle, young drivers (18-21 years of age) were advanced to be the most affected in respect of   the increased risk presented by in-vehicle distractions (Lam, 2002).

Another study specifically implicates teenagers as the most vulnerable group to distracted driving. The study that was designed to collect information from drivers whose ages ranged from 15 to 18 years, noted that fatal crashes involving such drivers are mostly single-vehicle crashes as compared with crashes that involve other drivers; and are characterized by the vehicle leaving the road and overturning or hitting roadside objects (NHTSA, 2006). The study also noted that teen fatal crashes are characterized by the presence of other persons – usually teenage passengers in the car – than in the case of other groups of drivers (NHTSA, 2006). Further the study noted that two thirds of teens “who die as passengers are in vehicles driven by other teenagers” (NHTSA, 2006, p.1). Among the activities of distraction noted to contribute to such high teenage implication in crashes, the presence of peers in the car was thus a highly rated factor (NHTSA, 2006). Other causative factors noted with respect to teen drivers were searching for CDs, tuning radio stations, cell phone use and food consumption (NHTSA, 2006, p. 2). Such distracted driving among teens may be promoted by the lack of clear association of distraction activities with crashes by the involved teenagers. For instance the report found out that many teenage drivers did not perceive cell phone use to be a great risk to their driving performance (NHTSA, 2006). This was irrespective of such a practice causing minor crashes which according to the teens did not constitute crashes since of the lack of a high impact or injury (NHTSA, 2006).

The effect of distracted driving in teenage drivers especially in relation to cell phone use has been established in other studies. In one study for instance, a survey of teens noted that of the teens aged 16-17 who indicated to use their cell phones for texting, 34 percent have texted while on the wheel; a percentage that estimates 26 percent of American teens in that age group (Madden & Lenhart, 2009, p.4). In respect to talking on the phone such percentage as a part of all American teens increased to 43 percent while as a proportion of cell-owning teens in the age group of concern (16-17) the percentage was 52 (Madden & Lenhart, 2009, p.5). Further the study found out that 48 percent of teens in the age group 12-17 years had been in a car while the driver was texting (Madden & Lenhart, 2009, p.6). The findings of this study and the previous discussed study also noted that vulnerability for distracted driving increased with increase in age within the teenage age set irrespective whether a role as a driver or passenger was considered (NHTSA, 2006; Madden & Lenhart, 2009). These studies put persons in the teenage years’ to be the most vulnerable in cases of distracted driving.

With respect to the vulnerable group, the study also sought input from the interviewed professionals. The traffic police officer quickly pointed out that young people between the ages of 18 and 21 were the most he had either attended to after crashes or given citations for a moving violation. The NSC officer pointed out that most of their reports indicated teenage cases were high especially with their increasing use of emerging technologies in all their aspects. The nurse pointed out that where teenagers were are allowed a high degree of freedom, they would be highly tempted to engage in various distracting activities in the perception that they are better drivers than their aged parents. The nurse further reinforced the sentiments made by the NSC official by noting that teens and young adults were more likely to be ruled to interacting with their friends in the social media while driving in the worry that some interesting events would pass their attention. Such perspectives presented by both the statistics and the interview responses evidence that distracted driving threatens to rob off the nation important manpower that could reduce the productivity in future. Go to part 7 here.

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