bumpy roadI’m going to sound very middle-aged in this post. Whenever I talk about texting and driving I tend to show my age. I don’t know how it happened or when it was that I truly became a grown-up, but when it comes to texting and driving I feel nothing like a sixteen year-old.

Unfortunately, teens are particularly vulnerable in the car. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of teens between 16 to 19 years of age. The reason is established: teens die most often in cars in part because teenagers are more dangerous and inexperienced on the road but also because they are one of the groups that has the lowest rate of seat belt use out there. Teens are also more prone, compared to experienced drivers, to making mistakes while driving when distracted. There’s some new information published in Pediatrics today that lends insight into teens and distraction, especially when it comes to texting.

Research at the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has established that about 1/3 of American adults say they text and drive. The reality is, it’s worse for teens: data published today from 2011 CDC surveys find that about 45% of teens said they had texted during the most recent month.

What is particularly interesting (and potentially helpful) from the new data is that some groups of teens take more risks than others. Obvious statement, yes, but something to think about especially if we can help deter those risk-takers more wisely. Teens who text are also more likely to be the ones who don’t don the seatbelt and who would get in a car with a teen who has been drinking. This data may offer up an opportunity to target approaches for interventions.

Americans, Teens Who Text & Drive

  • Car crashes are leading cause of death for teens age 16 to 19.
  • Teens are inexperienced & more dangerous drivers.
  • Teens (age 14-17) send an average of 100 texts/day yet we also know that girls send more texts than boys.
  • 33 States and Washington DC restrict cell phone use in car while an additional 5 states ban use for new drivers.
  • About 1/3 American adults say they text and drive.

New Info On Teens & Texting

  • 8500 teens over age 16 surveyed by the CDC answered questions about texting and driving.
  • 45% teens from all over the US said they had texted & driven during last month. But previous research confirms this may be an underestimate. A 2009 survey in North Carolina found that over 70% of teens said they had texted and driven before while 29% of the same group said they had read or sent a text during their most recent trip!
  • The big news in the Pediatrics article was that teen texters were more likely to have other risky behaviors. Those that texted were also more likely not to use seat belt, ride with drunk driver, and drink and drive. The strength of the association strengthened as the frequency of texting and driving increased. Meaning that, the more these teens reported texting, the more often they reported other risky behaviors. Previous research has found a 23-fold increase in risk for a crash while texting and driving.

5 Things Parents Can Do To Support Teen Drivers

  1. Talk to teens about distractions during driving. Texting is one distraction but so is a cell phone, friends, or chaos amidst the car. Teens who tend to engage in riskier behavior tend to feel that those behaviors aren’t as risky as teens who don’t take risks. You can potentially change a teen’s understanding here. Discuss the risk of riding without a seat belt and riding with a driver who has been drinking along with distractions.
  2. Don’t just finger-wag, explain that texting and driving involves 3 distractions: Visual (eyes averted), manual (hands preoccupied), and cognitive (thoughts elsewhere). Together it makes for a risky combination–explain why.
  3. As an adult, model great driving (no texting, cell phone use in car).
  4. Teach teens to put phone in purse or bag in backseat of car, from the very first time behind the wheel. I always tell teens that nearly  no one can ignore the buzz and the beep of an arriving message. Make it impossible to get into a bad habit and keep the phone out of reach. Data finds that educational approaches are largely ineffective at reducing teen risky behavior–we have to work to also have things like ongoing minimum legal drinking age and graduated drivers licensing systems in place.
  5. Have “house driving rules” and stick to the rules and consequences. There is some data that these rules combined with parent involvement enforcing them can reduce risky teen driving behaviors and crashes.