Almost half of teenaged drivers text when behind the wheel

August 1, 2013

More than 44% of students at least 16 years old text while driving, data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows. The biennial survey, which is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was conducted in public and private high schools throughout the country; participation was anonymous and voluntary.

More than 44% of students at least 16 years old text while driving, data from the 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows. About 8,500 teenagers responded to the survey question, “During the past 30 days, on how many days did you text or e-mail while driving a car or other vehicle?” The biennial survey, which is sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was conducted in public and private high schools throughout the country; participation was anonymous and voluntary.

Of students who texted while driving, more than 1 in 4 did so on all 30 days. In addition, prevalence of any texting while driving increased with age, from 32.6% for 16-year-olds to 57.7% for students aged 18 years or older. The prevalence of any texting while driving also varied by race/ethnicity and was highest among white students (50.7%) and lowest among black students (30.1%). Boys were also more likely to engage in the activity than girls (46.4% vs 42.3%, respectively).

Furthermore, students who texted while driving were more likely than other teenaged drivers to engage in additional risky motor vehicle behaviors: to not always wear a seatbelt, to ride with a driver who has been drinking alcohol, or to drink alcohol and drive. Texting while driving and driving when drinking alcohol were most strongly associated, with students who texted while driving 5.4 times more likely to drive when they had been drinking than students who did not text while driving. In addition, the more a student texted while driving, the more likely he or she was to engage in other risky motor vehicle behaviors (O’Malley Olsen E, et al. Pediatrics. 2013;131[6]:e1708-e1715).

Commentary: Despite increasing evidence that texting and cell phone use are linked with inattention among drivers, and despite increasing reports of individuals killed or injured while driving and texting, the practice of texting at the wheel is quite common and will be hard to change. Antitexting laws are difficult to enforce. We can educate parents and young drivers, but adolescence is marked by a sense of invulnerability and a focus on connecting with peers, which today means texting. I think that the solution will need to include some sort of “passive restraint” that deactivates phones when the car is moving. It may seem a little invasive, but it is what is most likely to work. -Michael Burke, MD

Subscribe to Contemporary Pediatrics to get monthly clinical advice for today's pediatrician.