More deadly crashes after dark linked to teen cell use

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An increase in fatal nighttime crashes involving teenage drivers is likely attributable to an increase in talking and texting while driving, according to a new report from the Texas Transportation Institute. As the Associated Press reports, researchers found that, across the U.S., deadly nighttime crashes involving drivers between the ages of 16 to 19 increased by 10% between 1999 and 2008. During the same period, fatal nighttime collisions involving drivers ages 20 and older rose by 8% during the same time period. Yet while alcohol was largely to blame for the increase in crashes among older drivers, researchers say that driver distraction caused by texting or talking on cell phones was a major cause of the increase in deadly crashes among teens.

Bernie Fette, a senior researcher for the Texas Transportation Institute told the AP:

“We know driving at night is dangerous. We know using a cell phone behind the wheel compromises your ability to drive… Put those together and you’ve created a perfect storm.”

Researchers analyzed data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System. They found that, while total collisions dropped by 11% between 1999 to 2008, the proportion occurring after dark increased:

In 2008, 4,322 fatal crashes involved drivers ages 16 to 19 years, with 2,148 of them — or just under 50 percent — at night, according to the study. In 1999, 6,368 fatal crashes involved drivers ages 16 to 19, with 2,875, or 45 percent, of them at night. That same year, 44,803 fatal crashes involved drivers ages 20 to 97, with 18,601 at night. In 1999, the total number of fatal car crashes for drivers that age was 48,991, with 18,899 at night.

While data regarding cell phone use by drivers is incomplete, researchers say that the uptick in fatal nighttime crashes among 16- to 19-year-olds aligns with the overall increase in cell phone use — particularly among teens.