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Distracted driving especially dangerous for teen drivers

Listen to a Raleigh newscast and you will hear plenty of reasons to be distracted these days. And if you look in the mirror and look at your loved ones, you will see the very best reasons to stay focused whenever you are behind the wheel of your vehicle.

If you are the parent of a teenager or a son or daughter in their early 20s, you should look extra hard. A recent study published in "Pediatrics," the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in the 16-to-24 age group in the U.S.

Because of this toll on the nation's youth, the Harvard University researchers tried to determine the association between fatal vehicle crash rates involving drivers 16 to 19 years old and state distracted driving laws.

They analyzed a decade of data (2007 to 2017) of fatal wrecks involving drivers and passengers 16 to 19 years old. The researchers then compared fatal crash "rates across states on the basis of different types and strengths of distracted driving laws."

According to the study, there were 38,215 drivers ages 16 to 19 involved in fatal motor vehicle crashes from 2007 to 2017.

The highest rate of involvement was for 19-year-old drivers (27.2 out of 100,000 19-year-old persons). The lowest rate was for 16-year-olds (10.7 out of 100,000).

It should be noted that there are two types of texting bans: primary and secondary. In primary-enforced states such as North Carolina, police are allowed to stop motorists solely for violating the texting ban. Secondary texting bans only allow police to issue citations if the motorist has been pulled over for other reasons, such as speeding.

The researchers found that primary-enforced texting ban states had fatal crash rates involving 16- to 19-year-old drivers that were 24 percent to 33 percent lower than the rates in secondary-enforced states. Those primary bans were also associated with decreased fatal wreck rates for all age groups.

This recent study reinforces conclusions reached in numerous previous studies on the dangers of behind-the-wheel distractions, especially for our youngest drivers.

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