Is That Mom on the Phone? Teen Drivers and Distraction


Distracted driving is a primary cause of traffic accidents with cell phone use being the most common distraction (NHTSA, 2013). Teen cell phone use while driving is even more dangerous. In 2011, 21% of drivers aged 15-19 involved in fatal car accidents were distracted while using a cell phone (NHTSA, 2013).

In order to design more effective interventions and public health campaigns, a better understanding of the nature of cell phone use while driving is needed. Many surveys collect data on in-vehicle cell phone use, but may not look at the issue in enough depth to design interventions that can effectively lower use. We conducted a series of 10 in-depth interviews, followed by a survey with responses from 471 teen and adult drivers to explore who drivers are communicating with.

Responses in the interviews were similar to those on the survey. Most novice teen drivers with restricted licenses reported talking on the cell phone (interviews: 80%, surveys: 66%). More experienced 17 and 18 year old teen drivers with unrestricted licenses reported similar use (interviews: 75%, survey: 80%). We asked drivers who reported talking on the cell phone while driving who they spoke with while driving. Results show that the majority of phone calls teens receive while driving are from parents (on average 53% of calls are from parents for teens with all license types and only 28% of calls are from friends). These results suggest that better communication with parents about the risks of teen drivers using cell phones has the potential to significantly reduce teen use of cell phones. Technologies that can alert a caller that the teen is driving may also be useful.

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LaVoie, N., Lee, Y.-C., & Parker, J. (2014). Is that mom on the phone? Teen drivers and distraction. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association Annual Convention, Washington, DC, August, 7-10, 2014.


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