Teens more likely to be distracted while behind the wheel

The hazards that distracted drivers pose to those sharing the nation's roadways have been made painfully clear in media recently. According to the Department of Transportation, distracted drivers caused more than 416,000 injures and 3,000 deaths in 2010 alone. Although distracted driving is a problem for all age groups, experts say that teens are at a higher risk.

Teens and texting

The first reason that distracted driving is more of problem among teenagers is because they are more likely to send or receive text messages while behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers under age 25 are three times more likely to text while driving than other age groups. However, texting is an increasing problem for all ages.

The danger that texting while driving poses have been made clear by government statistics. According to distraction.gov, the federal government website about distracted driving, drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be involved in a car accident. The reason: texting takes a driver's eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, enough time to drive the length of a football field, assuming the car is going 55 miles-per-hour.

Cranial development

Teens are also at higher risk for distracted driving because of human development-or lack thereof. Teens who reach driving age are still developing regulatory compliance-the ability to regulate attention and emotion to function effectively under challenging circumstances.

Regulatory compliance comes from the prefrontal cortex, which is the brain's control center. In humans, the prefrontal cortex develops more slowly than the limbic system, which controls arousal and reward. Once teens have reached driving age, they typically have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex and a fully developed limbic system.

This developmental combination can make teens easily distracted, because it takes a high amount of effort to maintain focus and control. If there are distractions-such as noise in the car or the ringing of a cellphone-while the teen is driving, it can easily grab the teen's attention and make it difficult to focus on driving.

To fight the problem, the federal government has stepped in and appropriated $46 million in grants to incentivize states to create or strengthen distracted driving programs over the next two years. In addition, the government has granted $27 million to states to improve graduated driver licensing laws. In order to receive the money, states must pass laws banning young drivers from using cellphones while driving.

An attorney can help

Although tougher distracted driving laws can help by deterring teens from picking up the phone while behind the wheel, it is not likely to stop everyone from indulging in their cellphone habit. If you or a loved one have been injured by a careless or inattentive driver, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn about your right to compensation.