While most people may indulge in a little multitasking while behind the wheel of a car, what teenagers do besides driving is way beyond that, a new study finds.
Teens plop in contact lenses, put on makeup, and even change clothes and shoes while driving. That's in addition to the typical eating and drinking most drivers indulge in during a ride.
Oh, and teens are not above doing a little homework while in their cars, according to the study published in the Journal of Transportation Safety and Security.
"Teens are busy, I guess," says study leader David Hurwitz, a professor of transportation engineering at Oregon State University.
That busyness puts teens at greater risk behind the wheel, experts say; teen drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times more likely to be in a fatal car crash than drivers ages 20 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Eleven percent of fatal wrecks involving teens involved distracted driving, the CDC says.
That's not surprising, Hurwitz says.
"Based on recent studies, anything that takes your attention away, any glance away from the road for two seconds or longer can increase the risk of an accident from four to 24 times," he notes.
The risk is all the greater because inexperienced drivers are least capable of handling it, he says.
Teens' attachment to their cellphones is of particular concern, he adds.
"The absolute worst is texting on a cell phone, which is a whole group of distractions," Hurwitz says. "With texting, you're doing something besides driving, thinking about something besides driving, and looking at the wrong thing."
There was some good news about texting in the study, which found fewer teens saying they were texting while driving compared to some earlier surveys, although 40 percent in the new study admitted to still occasionally texting.
The researchers suggest "interactive" training using driving simulators or simple computers, with a focus on the issue of distractions, could help.
Hurwitz' team enlisted the teens in their survey in such classes at high schools in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Researchers found the students were slightly better at recognizing the risks of multitasking while driving after taking part in the courses.
Any improvement is better than none, Hurwitz says.
"More experienced drivers learn how to control these distractions, but we're finding the most problems with the very young driver, within six months of getting a license," he says.
More interactive training with an emphasis on distraction can help and can improve driver training, he says.