AAA Foundation study says teen girls top boys in distracted driving habits

AAA Foundation in-car camera study of teen drivers shows distractions differ between the sexes.

Suzanne Ashe
Suzanne Ashe has been covering technology, gadgets, video games, and cars for several years. In addition to writing features and reviews for magazines and Web sites, she has contributed to daily newspapers.
Suzanne Ashe
2 min read

Teen girl drivers are more likely to be distracted by electronic devices and their male counterparts, a new study reports.

According to the in-car video study released last week by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, teen girls are twice as likely as teen boys to use cell phones and other electronic devices while driving.

"Cell phones, texting, personal grooming, and reaching for things in the car were among the most common distracting activities found when cameras were put in new teen drivers' cars," AAA Foundation President and CEO Peter Kissinger said in a press release. "This new study provides the best view we've had about how and when teens engage in distracted driving behaviors believed to contribute to making car crashes the leading cause of death for teenagers."

Data for the 50-page report, titled "Distracted Driving Among Newly Licensed Teen Drivers," came from an analysis of video clips from 50 North Carolina families with novice teen drivers.

The first study looked at how parents supervise their teens when they first begin learning to drive, and the second examined how teen behaviors and driving conditions shift during the transition to unsupervised driving.

For the current study, 7,858 clips from the first six months of unsupervised driving were reanalyzed to investigate distraction specifically, the report said. Then examiners identified the prevalence and consequences of various distracted driver behaviors and distracting conditions among teens during "high g-force maneuvers" -- i.e. swerving, hard braking, or rapid acceleration.

The study results show that girls were nearly twice as likely as males to use an electronic device while driving, and overall were nearly 10 percent more likely to be distracted while reaching for an object in the vehicle (nearly 50 percent more likely than boys) and eating or drinking (nearly 25 percent more likely). But male teen drivers were roughly twice as likely to turn around in their seats while driving, and were also more likely to communicate with people outside of the vehicle, the study reports.

Researchers at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center who conducted the study, conclude, other than electronic device usage, teens engaged in some form of potentially distracted behavior in 15 percent of clips, of which adjusting controls, personal grooming, and eating or drinking were the most common. Many of the distracting behaviors -- including use of electronic devices -- were more prevalent among the older teens in the study group, suggesting rapid changes in these behaviors as teens get more comfortable behind the wheel, the report said.

"The gender differences with regard to distraction observed in this study raise some points that we'll want to investigate in future projects," Kissinger said in a press release. "Every insight we gain into driver behavior has the potential to lead us to new risk management strategies."