Cell phones and friends: Those are the most likely distractions for teen drivers, and new research shows the problem is much worse than anyone knew.

Researchers at the University of Iowa studied about 1,700 videos of teen car crashes and found that distractions were contributing factors in 58 percent of the wrecks, according to a recent article in the Tampa Tribune.  That percentage is much higher than the previously estimated 14 percent.

Accidents involving distracted driving have increased by 25 percent in Florida since 2012, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

It’s well established that teen drivers have the highest risk of accidents. But videos from the seconds immediately before a crash give clear evidence that teenage drivers are distracted far more than anyone realized, said Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which sponsored the newly released study.

Not only did this new look at teen driving habits find that distractions were factors nearly 60 percent of crashes. The researchers also found that distractions were a main cause in 89 percent of crashes in which teen drivers ran off the road and in 76 percent of wrecks in which young motorists rear-ended other vehicles.

The AAA Foundation study found the top cause of distraction for young drivers was interaction with one or more passengers in the vehicle, a factor in 15 percent of distraction-related teen crashes. The AAA study adds credence to previous Texas A&M research that found drivers from 15 to 17 were much more likely to crash if they had one or more riders than the 18-to-24 age group.

Two or more passengers significantly increase distraction by making loud noises, moving around in the car and using cell phones, AAA found.

Cell phones were the second biggest source of teen driving distraction, diverting their eyes from the roadway for an average of 4.1 seconds in the moments before they wrecked.

Other common types of distraction include:

  • Eating or drinking
  • Reaching for an electronic device such as a GPS
  • Lighting a cigarette
  • Unsecured pets
  • Grooming
  • Daydreaming

The three most important aspects of driving are keeping your mind on the task of driving, your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Anything that diverts a young driver from the task of handling the vehicle is risky.

Parents would do well to take this information and use it to reinforce safe driving habits with their teen drivers.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, teen drivers are responsible for 12 percent of distracted driving accidents in the state while drivers ages 20-29 were responsible for a third of the accidents.

Florida has put in place restrictions on the number of passengers that teen drivers can transport and the times they can drive may have helped reduced accidents. Still too many preventable accidents occur in Tampa and across Florida because drivers are distracted.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a distracted driver in the Tampa area, let a distracted driving accident lawyer review the specifics of the accident and explain your legal options. You may be entitled to claim compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.