Despite awareness of risks, 91% of teens text while driving

September 17, 2015

Three of young drivers’ riskiest driving behaviors have come under scrutiny in two recent studies, chronicled in “Prevalence of texting while driving and other risky driving behaviors among young people in Ontario, Canada,” by researchers Sean Tucker, Simon Pek, Jayne Morrish and Megan Ruf. The two studies reported on how prevalent texting while driving is — as well as other dangerous behaviors — among two groups of teens aged 16 to 19 in Ontario, Canada.

Teenager in car

91% of teens admit to texting while driving. Image from State Farm.

Texting while driving isn’t just dangerous, it’s deadly. As the researchers point out, “Young drivers are significantly overrepresented in driving-related crashes and fatalities with wide-ranging human and economic consequences.” Research has shown that texting and reading text messages as well as talking on the phone while driving impair driving significantly, negatively impacting response time, speed and headway.

The numbers speak for themselves: A whopping 21% of fatal crashes involving teen drivers in the U.S. are attributed to cell phone use. And even though young people seem to be aware of the danger in texting while driving, 91% of college-aged participants reported the habit, in one survey.

While studies on phone use combined with other bad driving habits aren’t widely available, particularly outside the U.S., point out the researchers, this paper investigates the findings of two large sample studies that analyzed the prevalence of age and gender of texting while driving, talking on the phone while driving and speeding among teens in Ontario. For the research, the authors analyzed current literature on teen texting-while-driving, speeding, and talking on the phone while driving; they also analyze a short survey given at the beginning of an online safety test, which is filled out by tens of thousands Canadian teens each year.

Some of the study’s important takeaways: Boys were more likely than girls to text while driving and to speed, and 16-year-olds reported more frequent texting-while-driving than did older participants. Study participants also shared the reasons for texting less, including perceived danger, laws and fines, and hearing close calls and accidents experienced by others.

Worse, dangerous behavior like texting while driving was found to be linked to the other two bad habits: speeding and talking on the phone while driving. (There were signs of improvement during the two studies chronicled in the paper, which noted a sharp decline in texting between the first and second studies — but the shift alone doesn’t offer workable conclusions.)

The good news? The drivers’ reported reasons for texting and other dangerous driving behaviors might help counteract the very danger they bring about.

For one, the participants reported that a number of reasons were behind their decision not to text, such as hearing a story from a person injured as a result of a distracted driving accident. Social marketing and public service campaigns can address these concerns, and should, in particular, focus on young, male teens. This high-priority demographic is the most dangerous behind the wheel. The kids sitting in the passenger seats are also prime targets, write the authors. Social marketing should address the “bystander effect,” in other words, those young passengers who remain quiet while they watch friends and parents text.

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Category: Transportation

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