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Survey targets teen drivers who don't pay attention
By Marni Pyke | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/3/2010 12:02 AM

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One minute you're LOL over a text from a friend, and the next - OMG - you've hit a car at the mall parking lot.

Texting, surfing the radio, yakking on the cell phone, eating - they're all behaviors teens engage in while driving although they know it's dangerous, a study by AAA and Seventeen magazine concludes.

The AAA focused its efforts on adolescents because traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for that age group, Chicago office spokeswoman Beth Mosher said. Lack of experience and willingness to take risks are contributing factors, experts contend.

"It's a national priority for us. They are the most vulnerable roadway users," Mosher said.

The study taken in May involved nearly 2,000 drivers ages 16 to 19. Results showed that 86 percent admitted to having driven distracted while 84 percent acknowledged that this was hazardous.

Of the young drivers surveyed: 73 percent have adjusted their radio, CD player or MP3 player; 61 percent have eaten something; 60 percent have talked on a cell phone and 28 percent have texted while driving.

Teens said they don't worry about consequences of distracted driving because they believe it would only take a second, are used to multi-tasking, and don't think anything negative will happen, the report stated.

"Teens' lack of experience expose them to more crash risk," Mosher said. "The way teens handle potential crashes is different (from adults). They overcompensate. They often don't pay attention to all that could happen on the roadway and do not know how the car will react as well as adults who have been driving for years do."

But just because teens are more vulnerable doesn't mean adults aren't guilty of taking their eyes off the road.

Statistics indicate that 80 percent of crashes are distracted-driving related, regardless of who is behind the wheel, AAA said. The Itasca-based National Safety Council states that 28 percent of crashes are attributable to texting or using a cell phone.

Wheeling police traffic Officer Chris Parr has heard all kinds of excuses from adults and teens guilty of distracted driving.

"(Violators) are all across the board," she said. "Teens are more of the electronic gadget generation, so they're more likely to - but adults can be just as bad."

The excuses she gets? "Mostly, it's 'I didn't know.'"