School & District Management

Study Confirms Texting and Driving Common Among Teens

November 16, 2009 1 min read

If anybody out there is not yet convinced that texting while driving is a serious problem among teenagers, here’s more data to show just how prevalent the behavior is. The Pew Research Center released the results of a new survey today that shows that more than a third of young people ages 16-17 who use text-messaging devices have done so while behind the wheel, while nearly half of those between 12 and 17 say they’ve been in a car while the driver was texting.

The findings, culled from a survey of 800 teenagers and pre-teens, and focus groups, include:

* 75% of all American adolescents ages 12-17 own a cellphone, and 66% use their phones to send or receive text messages. * Older youths are more likely than younger ones to have cellphones and use text messaging; 82% of those ages 16-17 have a cell phone and 76% of that cohort are cellphone texters. * One in three (34%) texting teenagers ages 16-17 say they have done so while driving. That translates into 26% of all Americans ages 16-17. * Half (52%) of cell-owning teens ages 16-17 say they have talked on a cell phone while driving. That translates into 43% of all American youths ages 16-17. * 48% of all adolescents ages 12-17 say they have been in a car when the driver was texting. * 40% say they have been in a car when the driver used a cellphone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.

Many teenagers who were interviewed for the study were “blase” about texting while driving, the report says, and admitted that they don’t consider it a hazard. Some even take measures to avoid getting caught doing it, such as wearing sunglasses so passing police officers cannot see the driver looking down. Others suggested that reading a text while driving is not as dangerous as sending one.

The report, written by Pew senior researchers Mary Madden and Amanda Lenhart, is part of the Washington-based center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Katie Ash wrote about this issue last month when a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Center released even more troubling data on teenage driving habits. That study found that about half of teens polled admitted to sending text messages while driving.

The issue has been taken up recently at the federal level, and not just focused on youthful offenders. The center at Virginia Tech reported that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008, and more than half a million were injured, as a result of distracted driving. The highest incidence rate was among young drivers. It is perceived as such a problem that the Obama administration convened a national summit of experts this past September to
discuss the issue and recommend solutions. It resulted in an executive order that forbids federal officials from texting while driving official vehicles, or even their own cars while on business. A number of states have taken steps to ban all texting by drivers.

With cellphones and texting becoming ubiquitous among teenagers and adults alike, it’s an issue that will likely get more attention.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

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