Though the dangers of the practice are clear, evidence suggests that a large number of teen drivers in the U.S. continue to text while they are behind the wheel. This is not just a matter of kids being kids, but rather a serious safety issue that can lead to serious car accidents. In fact, texting while driving is the number one cause of death for teenagers, surpassing even drinking and driving.
Researchers at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York examined data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a 2011 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey asked teens of driving age how many days in the past month they had texted or sent an email while driving a car or other vehicle. Approximately 43 percent of nearly 8,000 teens surveyed admitted that they had texted or sent an email while driving at least once in the previous 30 days.
Boys were significantly more likely than girls to text while behind the wheel. Of those surveyed, 45.7 percent of boys admitted to texting while driving, while just over 39 percent of girls admitted to the practice. Researchers also discovered that teens were more likely to text while driving as they got older. Of those 18-years-old and older, about 52 percent reported that they texted and sent emails while driving. The percentage dropped to about 33 percent among 16 year olds. Interestingly, it appears that state laws banning texting while driving are doing very little: 43.5 percent of teens living in states without bans reported that they text and drive, while 39 percent of teens who live in states with bans say that they text anyway.
The findings of the study are preliminary, but they underscore the importance of developing solutions – whether they be legislative or technological – to the significant distracted driving problem in the U.S. While texting or checking emails while driving may be particularly prevalent among teen drivers, the reality is that they represent only part of the problem. Indeed, texting or checking email is just as dangerous for adult drivers as it is teens. The ubiquity of communications technology has changed the way that many people work, with the unfortunate result that some attempt to take calls and send emails while driving on the highway. No matter the age of the person behind the wheel, distracted driving is a significant danger.