by Anna Maltby
John RawlingsNovice drivers may start out focused, but as the first few months of driving pass they become more comfortable multitasking behind the wheel (using their phones, eating, etc.) and increase their risk for accidents, according to a Virginia Tech study released yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. That may be part of the reason why drivers aged between 15 and 20 represent 6.4 percent of all motorists, but account for 11.4 percent of deaths and 14 percent of police-reported crashes resulting in injuries.
The Virginia Tech team compared the results of a study of experienced drivers with the results of an 18-month study of brand-new drivers, looking out for "secondary tasks" -- those multitasking moments when the driver was doing something additional behind the wheel besides just driving. They noted that in the first six months, the brand-new drivers did fewer secondary tasks than the experienced drivers, but between months six and 12 behind the wheel, their secondary-task rates rose to match the experienced drivers. Furthermore after month 12, they were doing even more distracting stuff while driving than the experienced drivers were doing.
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"I believe that teenagers get more comfortable and perhaps overly confident in their driving abilities and thus begin to engage more frequently in high-risk secondary tasks," Charlie Klauer, Ph.D., first author of the article, told SELF.com. "From a driving safety perspective, this is particularly concerning with the proliferation of smartphone use and the varying high-risk tasks that can be performed while driving. From a national perspective, novice driver fatalities have been coming down over the past decade, but this trend may reverse due to distracted driving."
The most dangerous secondary tasks? Dialing a cell phone, reaching to grab an object other than a cell phone, reaching for a phone, looking at a roadside object and texting or using the Internet.
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What makes that point so interesting is while there are currently many laws that put the kibosh on talking on a phone, they don't have laws against dialing or reaching for other objects -- or putting on makeup like our friend here.
"My advice to all drivers, but especially novice drivers, is [to] keep your eyes on the forward roadway!" Klauer says. "Novice drivers are not only not very good at detecting potential roadway hazards but also aren't very good at safely negotiating complex roadway environments, especially when something unexpected happens. Therefore, novice drivers need to keep their eyes and attention to the forward roadway to keep themselves as safe as possible while driving."
Stay safe out there, however many years of driving you have (or don't have!) under your belt.