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Cellphones add to teens’ night driving risks

Associated Press / May 7, 2010

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AUSTIN, Texas — Nighttime driving is becoming more hazardous for American teenagers and the likely cause is talking and texting on cellphones while operating a vehicle, according to a study released yesterday.

The report by the Texas Transportation Institute said the proportion of fatal crashes at night involving drivers 16 to 19 years old nationwide increased 10 percent from 1999 to 2008. The percentage of nighttime fatal crashes involving drivers 20 years and older rose nearly 8 percent from 1999 to 2008.

While the increase in nighttime crashes in the older age group can be attributed primarily to alcohol use, the study authors pointed to driver distraction caused by talking and texting on cellphones as a likely cause of the increase in fatalities among younger drivers.

Nighttime driving carries inherent risks of decreased visibility and slower response because of driver fatigue. Those risks are even greater for teens who are inexperienced night drivers, said Bernie Fette, senior research specialist for the transportation institute.

The number of fatal crashes, including those at night, actually dropped between 1999 and 2008, but the percentage that occurred at night 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.

The proportional increase in nighttime fatal crashes went against the trend of overall crash fatalities, which dropped nearly 11 percent over the same time period, the study found.