Many have heard the phrase coined among today’s teens, “Fear of Missing Out” (FoMO). While most perceive it as a harmless mantra for today’s hyper-connected youth, a study released by Liberty Mutual Insurance and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) reveals that the pressures of this “always-on” lifestyle have manifested in potentially deadly consequences behind the wheel. From maintaining full school and extracurricular schedules, to constant technology updates—it appears that teens are more hyper-connected and exhausted than ever. The study finds that nearly half (48%) of teens report texting more when alone in the car—most often to update their parents. Just as concerning, 56% of teens have fallen asleep or nearly fallen asleep at the wheel, revealing the potential risky implications “FoMO” may have on today’s young drivers and signaling an important wake-up call needed for both parents and teens.

fear of missing out

Teens Under Pressure to Stay Hyper-Connected

Nearly 3,000 fatal crashes in 2013 were caused by distracted drivers, and 10% of those deaths were teens, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. From texting to apps and social media, today’s teens are faced with innumerable disruptions behind the wheel.

According to the survey, teens feel parents—more than anyone else—expect immediate replies to their text messages, even while driving. Fifty-five percent of teens report texting while driving in order to update their parents, and nearly one in five (19%) believe that their parents expect a text response within one minute, and 25% within 5 minutes, even while driving. However, the survey reveals a disconnect, as 58% of parents say they do not have set expectations on teens’ response time.

Connecting with parents isn’t the only distraction for young drivers. The survey also uncovers one-third (37%) of teens report texting to confirm or coordinate event details. Additionally, one in three (34%) teens take their eyes off the road when app notifications come in while driving, and an alarming number (88%) of teens who consider themselves “safe” drivers report using phone apps on the road.

Most popular apps teens report using behind the wheel include:

Snapchat: 38%;
Instagram: 20%;
Twitter: 17%;
Facebook: 12%; and
YouTube: 12%.

“Today’s hyper-connected teens’ ‘fear of missing out’ can put young drivers at risk on the road as they may be more plugged into their devices than the actual driving task,” says William Horrey, PhD, principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, in a release. “Teens may be at higher risk because they don’t always have the attentional capacity to deal with all the complexities on the road. These distractions in addition to fatigue may be even more significant with teens due to their relative driving inexperience as well. It’s so important for parents and teens to recognize and talk about these dangerous distractions to ensure better safety behind the wheel.”

“Always On” Lifestyle can Lead to Drowsy Driving

Technology behind the wheel isn’t the only peril stemming from teens’ “FoMO.” Teens’ reluctance to “miss out” and an “always-on” lifestyle are creating drowsy young drivers—and the study shows parents are largely unaware of this danger: While 61% of parents believe their teens get enough sleep, 52% of teens get less than 6 hours of sleep each night during the week. Even more, nearly three quarters (70%) of teens admit to driving while tired. Among the parents who think their teens don’t rest enough, 51% attribute it to them staying up to read text messages and notifications, revealing signs of “FoMO” infringing on sleep.

“Today’s parents are juggling their own busy schedules, and too often young drivers’ risky habits go unrecognized,” says Stephen Gray Wallace, senior advisor for policy, research and education at SADD. “It’s critical that parents focus on pinpointing these dangerous driving habits early on—from drowsy driving to technology use behind the wheel—and have frequent conversations with their children about what safe driving really means.”

Many don’t realize the effects of drowsy driving are similar to driving under the influence. After simply 18 hours awake, cognitive impairment equates to blood alcohol content (BAC) of .05%, and after 24 hours awake up to a BAC of .10%—higher than the legal limit in all states (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The study revealed that more than half of teens reported falling asleep or nearly falling asleep at the wheel, with the leading culprits being:

Busy schedule (extracurricular, school, etc.): 43%;
Staying up late completing homework: 32%;
Staying up late for social activities: 24%;
Working late hours during the week: 20%; and
Being tired or hung over from drinking/partying the night before: 10%.