News Release

Teen drivers often unsafe on the road with speeding and handheld cellphone use

Study finds teen drivers speed on 40% of road trips; text on 30% of road trips

Reports and Proceedings

American Academy of Pediatrics

ANAHEIM, CA.-- Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in adolescents, and risky driving behaviors like speeding, rapid accelerations, and cellphone use can contribute to crashes. New research presented during the 2022 American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition finds many teens struggle to abide the rules of the road.

Authors of the abstract, “Using a Novel cellphone Telematic App to Measure Adolescent Driving Behaviors,” found that all teens, no matter their sex, behind the wheel of a car were prone to risky behaviors, particularly handheld cellphone use and speeding. Among teen drivers studied, speeding occurred in approximately 40% of trips, and handheld phone use was detected in just over 30% of trips. In 5% of trips tracked by the study, teenagers were using a cellphone while speeding.

“Our data gives us another insight into teen driving behaviors. Teens were speeding and using their cellphone while driving, but it did not occur in every trip. We want to encourage safe driving and find ways to help prevent those risky driving behaviors that can lead to a crash,” said lead author Catherine McDonald, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and Co-Director of the PENN Injury Science Center.

The researchers used a cellphone application to track the driving skills of 165 adolescents in Pennsylvania. The average age of teens in the study was 17.3 years, and the average length of licensure was 8 months. The study found that most adolescents drove short trips, an average of under 6 miles per trip, and less than 2% of trips were at night.

There were a couple differences between the driving habits of males and females. Hard braking and rapid accelerations occurred in only about 10% of trips, but males in the sample engaged in this risky driving behavior more often than females. However, there were no significant differences between the males and females in speeding, cellphone use, or nighttime driving.

“Given the rapidly changing technology in the daily life of adolescents, this study also builds on previous research and helps to identify patterns related to cellphone use while driving among adolescents,” Dr. McDonald said. “Behavioral variations in this sample highlight opportunities for targeted interventions on risky driving.”

This research was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Catherine McDonald is scheduled to present an abstract of the study, available below, between 1 to 6 p.m. PT Sunday, Oct. 9, during the Council on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention meeting (H0258). To request an interview with the author, journalists may contact Dr. McDonald at

In addition, Dr. McDonald will be among the highlighted abstract authors who will give a brief presentations and be available for interviews during a press conference at 8:30 a.m. – 10 a.m. PT in the National Conference Press Room, 213 AB. During the meeting, you may reach AAP media relations staff in the Press Room.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal. 


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The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit Reporters can access the meeting program and other relevant meeting information through the AAP meeting website at



Abstract Title: Using a Novel Smartphone Telematic App to Measure Adolescent Driving Behaviors

Philadelphia, PA, United States

Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of adolescent death and disability. Risky driving behaviors are associated with adolescent motor vehicle crashes. We report preliminary data for risky driving behaviors in adolescent drivers using a smartphone application.

Prospective data was collected using Way to Drive, a novel research smartphone application developed by TrueMotion-Cambridge Mobile Telematics and managed by University of Pennsylvania. Licensed Pennsylvania drivers aged 16-18 years downloaded Way to Drive. For this analysis, we used the first eight weeks of data of drivers with a minimum of 50 trips to describe trip-level variation in metrics passively collected by the app: trip duration and length, nighttime driving (11pm-5am), hard braking and acceleration events (kinematic risky driving, KRD), speeding, and handheld cellphone use while driving. Zero-inflated Poisson modeling clustered by driver was used to evaluate sex-specific differences across these metrics.

Seventy-Nine adolescent drivers (28% male; 85% white) had a mean age of 17.4 (sd ±.005) years, with a mean licensure length of 8.0 (sd ±.06) months. They recorded 11,342 unique trips, totaling 69,780 miles and 3010 hours. Adolescents drove a mean of 185 trips at 6.2 miles/trip and 15.9 minutes/trip. There was little nighttime driving (1.6% of trips). KRD events occurred in 55.9% of trips at a rate of 26.5 events/100 miles. Speeding occurred in 37.3% of trips (mean duration of 9.7 minutes/100 miles). Handheld phone use was detected in 28.9% of trips (mean duration of use 16.8 minutes/100 miles). Handheld phone use while speeding occurred in 5.2% of trips (mean duration of 54.6 seconds/100 miles). Compared to females, males had increased incidence of KRD events while driving IRR=1.58 (1.12-2.24 p<.05); KRD events with active cellphone use IRR=2.65 (1.36-5.14 p<.01); and take a nighttime trip IRR=2.96 (1.76-4.96 p<.01). There were no significant differences in minutes of active cellphone use, speeding duration, speeding with active cellphone use by sex.

Adolescent drivers engage in risky driving behaviors. Way to Drive gives insight into normally difficult to measure teen driving behaviors. Variations in risky driving behaviors in this sample highlight opportunities for targeted interventions on risky driving behaviors. Future research can examine relationships among spatial and temporal characteristics of driving and cellphone use, to target risky behaviors that increase risk for a motor vehicle crash.


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