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Reach for the Die

Scott LaFee on

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death and disabilities among drivers 15 to 20 years old. A new study reports that teens who reach for objects while driving, such as food or makeup, increase their risk of crashing nearly seven times.

The National Institutes of Health study also found that teen drivers who manually dial, text or browse the web on a cellphone double their risk of getting into an accident.

Researchers followed 82 newly licensed teen drivers in Virginia over a one-year period, equipping their vehicles with cameras and GPS technology to track the driver's activity and environments. After one year, 43 of the drivers had not experienced a crash, while 25 had one crash and 14 had two or more crashes. Using six-second videos of driver behavior prior to a crash, researchers calculated that for every second that a teen's eyes were off the road, the risk of a crash increased by 28 percent -- regardless of the type of distraction. Reaching for something exacerbated risk because it took teens' hands off the wheel, too.

"Teenage drivers are so comfortable with mobile devices that they tend to overestimate their ability to multitask while driving," said study author Bruce Simons-Morton.

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