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Other Passengers, Not Phones, The Biggest Distraction In Crashes For Teen Drivers

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A new study has found distracted driving is to blame for nearly 60 percent of traffic accidents involving teenagers.

You might guess cell phones are the biggest distraction for young drivers, but guess again. Simply chatting with other people in the car was the most common distraction leading to a crash for teen drivers.

Researchers from the AAA Motor Club examined nearly 6,900 videos from families who had cameras mounted both on their teen drivers, and on the front windshield, as part of an education program.

From talking with other passengers, to texting on their phones, to getting lost in their music, the distraction rate for teens was four times the rate in previous estimates.

In 15 percent of the crashes, the driver was simply interacting with one or more passengers. Cell phone use, from talking to texting, was to blame in 12 percent of the incidents. Just fiddling around in the car – looking at something from the radio to a book – was to blame 10 percent of the time. Even just singing in the car led to accidents 6 percent of the time.

Although cell phones were not the most frequent distraction, researchers found drivers using phones had their eyes off the road for an average of 4.1 of the 6 seconds just before a crash.

CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot asked two teen drivers to use the AAA Distracted Driving Simulator. It creates real life road scenarios. First up was 16 year-old Austin Altman.

Altman ended up with a vehicular manslaughter charge during the simulation, after his pushy friend, urged him to text and drive.

"It was very difficult…things popping out of nowhere! Altman said. "I didn't even see the ambulance that I hit, or the human. They just came out of nowhere."

17 year-old Zach Schwartz ran over two dogs while texting during the simulation.

Zach's father says the simulation hits close to home. He says his father-in-law was killed by a distracted driver using a cellphone.

"If you really have to, then just pull over. I don't think a phone call is as important as a life," said Rich Schwartz.

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