Across 34 of the 35 states included in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, it is illegal for drivers under the age of 21 to text. Regardless, the study revealed that nearly two out of every five teen drivers age 14 years and older had texted while driving at least once in the month prior to the survey.
Cell phone use while driving has been estimated to increase crash risk by up to nine times. Texting while driving is particularly risky because it involves three types of driver distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive. This means that while drivers are texting they take their eyes off the road, hands off the wheel, and their attention away from driving.
The incident of texting while driving varied by state from a low of 26 percent in Maryland to 64 percent in South Dakota. Among states with a lower minimum learner’s permit age, texting while driving was more prevalent among teenagers. In all five states where more than 50 percent of teen drivers reported texting while behind the wheel, the learner’s permit age was 15 years or younger.
The study also revealed that white teens were more likely to text while operating a vehicle than those of other races or ethnicities. Between the ages of 15 and 16, the incident of driving and texting doubled, before continuing to increase substantially for ages 17 years and up.
“The increase in texting while driving at the age when teens can legally begin unsupervised driving was not surprising,” said study lead author Dr. Motao Zhu. “Graduated driver licensing laws could have an impact on texting while driving behavior: the earlier teens start driving, the earlier they start texting while driving.”
Teens who were engaging in other risky driving behaviors were also more likely to text while driving. For example, teens who reported drinking and driving were almost twice as likely to text while behind the wheel.
“Risky driving behavior is known to be much less common with an adult in the car,” said study co-author Dr. Ruth Shults. “The association between age and texting while driving highlights the need for parents to pay attention to their child’s texting while driving throughout the teen years – not just when their children are learning to drive.”
The study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.