AAA: Tech-savvy, Millennials Riskiest Drivers

By SAMUEL BLACKSTONE, Rapid City Journal | March 3, 2017

Young millennials, the group of adults ages 19-24, are seen in many ways as the backbone of our nation’s future.

But experts worry that some may not see that future if they continue to drive their cars they way they do, the Rapid City Journal reported.

A recent report from the American Automobile Association says that group of young adults exhibits far more risky behavior behind the wheel than any other age category.

In a report released this month by AAA, young millennial drivers were found to engage in the riskiest driving behavior of any age group, with 88 percent of 19- to 24-year-olds admitting they had exhibited at least one risky driving behavior in the past 30 days, such as speeding, running red lights or using a cellphone while driving. The report was based on a survey of 2,511 licensed drivers ages 16 and older.

The AAA report comes on the heels of another report last week by the National Safety Council, which showed the number of motor vehicle deaths in 2016 in the United States was 40,200, a 6 percent increase from 2015. In 2015, U.S. traffic deaths rose more than 7 percent, the largest single-year increase in more than 50 years, according to AAA.

South Dakota, on the other hand, had just 116 traffic fatalities in 2016, a decrease of 13 percent from 133 fatalities in 2015.

Tony Mangan, a spokesman for the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, said the figures in the state didn’t come as a surprise.

“We are trending lower than the national average, for not just the year, but the five-year average,” he said. “What we’re doing is, we’re doing a lot of cooperation efforts with safety groups, law enforcement and the public.”

Marilyn Buskohl, a spokeswoman for AAA in South Dakota, said she wasn’t surprised by the national figures, either, placing some of the blame on distracted driving.

“I think that even though there’s been a lot of awareness about the dangers of distracted driving, we haven’t seen people’s behaviors change and modify that much,” she said.

Buskohl said AAA supports making violations of seat-belt and cellphone usage laws primary offenses. Currently they are secondary offenses, meaning police officers may not pull over and issue citations without there being another, primary offense first.

Jerry Johnson, 62, has been teaching driver’s education courses to teens for more than 20 years at the Black Hills Career Learning Center. He believes technology is just as much to blame as the risky behaviors of millennial drivers. In the AAA report, drivers ages 19 to 24 were 1.6 times likelier (66.1 percent vs. 40.2 percent) to read a text message or email while driving than other drivers. They were also almost twice as likely (59.3 percent vs. 31.4 percent) to type or send a text or email while driving.

“Young people have grown up with technology,” Johnson said. “That’s the culture and that transfers, unfortunately, to trying to drive a car at the same time.”

Johnson said texting, talking on the phone or using a navigation system leads to distracted drivers. Mix in poor driving habits such as rolling through stop signs, running red lights and speeding, and spikes in accidents and traffic deaths are the result. Drivers ages 19 to 24 were 1.4 times likelier to drive 10 mph over the speed limit on residential streets and nearly 1.4 times likelier to run a red light.

Destin Spellman, 20, a student from Aberdeen enrolled at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, said he doesn’t always come to a complete stop at stop signs when he’s in rural areas, but that’s about it.

“I personally don’t (text) while I drive, but I know most people my age do,” Spellman said.

Diamond Tuhy, 21, another Mines student, admitted she is among those who do.

“I’ll answer personal calls,” Tuhy said. “I do go through the occasional yellow light.”

Tuhy said the 19-24 age group “tends to be a little more reckless,” but her parents use their phones to call, text and email while they drive, too.

“Adults have to be the role models,” Johnson said, noting that when his lessons are over, his students are picked up by parents who often disregard the lessons he’s just taught their children.

“Habits help define you as a person and certainly as a driver. You can be the best driver in the world, but the people around you are not. Technology certainly has its place (in the problem), but I think drivers in general and certainly young ones are more risk-taking and have the confidence that they can answer their phone, text and drive … while driving a 3,000-pound weapon down the highway.”

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