Space & Innovation

Driven to Distraction: What Causes Teen Crashes?

The summer is the deadliest time of year for fatal accidents involving teen drivers.


Buckle your seat belts. The summer season is upon us, and that means more teen drivers on the road -- and tragically more fatal accidents.

Beginning Memorial Day and through September are the 100 deadliest days in terms of auto crashes involving teen drivers. On an average summer day, the number of deaths involving teens behind the wheel is 16 percent higher than at any other time of year.

Nearly 60 percent of those incidents involve teens distracted while driving, according to a study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Perhaps unsurprisingly, smart phone use among connected teens is partly responsible for taking drivers' eyes off the road.

RELATED: Car Predicts Driving Mistakes Before They Happen

Using a cell phone, be it talking, texting, social media or otherwise engaging a mobile device, was linked to 12 percent of crashes, the second highest cause of road distractions in fatal accidents. Topping the list was talking to other passengers inside the car, tied to 15 percent of accidents. Rounding out the top three was either attending to or simply looking at something else inside the vehicle, such as fiddling with the radio, responsible for 11 percent of crashes.

WATCH: Is It Dangerous to Drive in the Morning?

In the last five years, more than 5,000 people lost their lives in crashes involving teen drivers during the 100 deadliest days. Over the course of a typical summer, 1,022 died in these kinds of fatal accidents.

"Every day during the summer driving season, an average of 10 people die as a result of injuries from a crash involving a teen driver" notes Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Texting is especially dangerous among teen drivers. Not only is texting common among teens, with some 55 percent reporting texting every day; nearly half of teen drivers also admitted to reading a text or e-mail while driving in the past month. Texting increases crash risk 23 times compared with driving sans distractions.

RELATED: 5 Driving Myths Busted

What is it about texting that makes it a particularly risky behavior? According to a study published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, texting shuts down a "sixth sense" in the brain that might otherwise keep us out of danger on the road even when we're unfocused.

Texting may interfere with a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, according to the researchers, which is known to intervene as an "error corrector." Hand eye-coordination is needed to correct mistakes, and texting gets in the way of that.

Understanding the causes of distracted driving can prevent future crashes and save lives. The AAA study recommends parents talk with their kids about the dangers of distracted driving, agree to ground rules to avoid distractions while behind the wheel, and above all set an example for their children by not engaging in the very behavior that moms and dads are trying to discourage.

SEE PHOTOS: Future of City Cars, Urban Mobility Revs Up

According to the United Nations, half of the world's population –

around 3.5 billion people

-- now live in urban environments. This massive shift toward urbanization is driving demand for new kinds of personal transportation in and around cities. We take a look at some of the concepts currently on the streets or in development. Let's go for a ride.

In March, industry leaders gathered for the

City Car Summit

in Berlin to map out the future of city transportation. Organizers kept the focus on personal mobility solution, rather than mass transit, and covered everything from new vehicle designs to next-generation parking solutions.

Toyota's three-wheeled


vehicle is already roaming the streets of Tokyo. The electric motor has a 50-kilometer range at typical city driving speeds. The plan is to deploy thousands of i-Road vehicles via car sharing services in select Asian and European cities.

Suzuki's radical reimagining of the smart car first debuted at the Tokyo Motor Show back in 2011. Designed for maximum maneuverability in tight urban spaces, the Suzuki Q-Concept sports a rear seat can be swapped out for two child seats or a cargo area.

Some projects are exploring the gray areas between personal mobility and mass transit. For instance, Chicago is very seriously considering the


, a network of transparent aerial cable car pods connecting Navy Pier to the Downtown Loop. You'll want to see the

concept video


On a related note, in April government officials in India -- the planet's second most populous country -- announced development of a personal rapid transport (PRT) system based on the concept of

driverless taxi pods

. The system would be similar to the

Metrino PRT system

in Auckland, New Zealand, pictured above.

In an effort to compete with renewable energy vehicles, ginormous oil companies like Shell are getting into the game of designing next-generation city cars. Shell's

Project M vehicle

uses a three-cylinder 660-cc engine that will provide fuel efficiency of around 90 mpg, the company says. Too bad the car looks like a rogue anime villain.

Of course, there's always pedal power. Developed by start-up company

Organic Transit

in Durham, NC, the ELF is a car/bicycle hybrid vehicle with a solar-powered, 750-watt electric motor on board. You can pedal 'til you're tired, then let the motor handle those uphill climbs. Or not — the zero-emission engine has a 15-mile range all on its own.

MIT Media Lab's


incorporates some radical ideas for future city driving. The chassis folds up to provide a smaller footprint for “stackable” parking and can spin on its axis for maneuvering into tight spaces.

Designers are clearly having fun with the smarter car concept. At the fast-forward industrial design site Tuvie, designer Djordje Kovacevic showcases the


, a super-lightweight concept car that wins on style points, if nothing else.