Teen Drivers Take Risks That Are Worse Than We Could Have Imagined, New Study Shows

First the good news: It looks like teenagers have started to get it through their heads that texting and driving is dangerous. Now, the less-good news: A new study found teenagers take a lot of risks behind the wheel, like change clothes and do homework and a whole lot of other things while driving that are major distractions, NPR reported. The study, conducted by the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security, surveyed about 1,000 drivers between the ages of 14 and 18 in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to see what they considered distracted driving.

What the researchers found, according to NPR, was that along with changing clothes and shoes, and doing homework, some of the teenagers admitted to putting on makeup and changing contact lenses while driving. Lead researcher David Hurwitz told NPR he was surprised at the level of multitasking that was actually going on, and, worse, that the teens seemed unaware of the risks of driving distracted. So, the researchers also conducted workshops with the kids to show them just how hard it was to concentrated on doing two simple tasks at the same time, like talking on the phone and writing numbers on a chalkboard, even when they were not driving.

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Once they completed the course, NPR reported, most of the teenagers realized how little it took to become distracted behind the wheel. And side note: As nerdy a student as I was, and as much as I was obsessed with getting good grades, it never, ever occurred to me to do homework while driving my beat-up Toyota to class. And while I'll admit to the occasional lipstick touch-up in the rear-view mirror, and possibly once or twice checking Twitter while driving (I know, it's bad, I'll stop), I can't envision a scenario where I would try to change outfits while speeding down the highway.

But there is a bright spot in the researchers' findings. Only 40 percent of the teenagers said they still texted while driving, a much lower figure than past studies. So, all those campaigns to discourage texting and driving appear to be having some impact.

It seems like while we've met the goal of getting teenagers and other drivers to stop texting or talking on the phone while driving, there's still work to be done educating drivers, especially inexperienced ones, to teach them that just taking your eyes off the road for a few seconds to put on lipstick or finish your algebra can have serious consequences.

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