Texting While Driving: Everyone’s Doing it

Adults are at least as likely as teenagers to text and engage in other distracting behavior behind the wheel, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Twenty-seven percent of adult survey respondents said they have sent or read text messages while driving. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds reported a texting-while-driving rate of 26 percent in the same survey, which was conducted in May.

Adults 18- to 33-years-old were the most likely to report texting while driving, with 59 percent saying they’ve done so. Half of 34- to 45-year-olds admitted texting behind the wheel, while 29 percent of those 46-65 reported such behavior. And half of all passengers said they’ve been chauffeured by a texting driver.

“Even those of us who make a conscious choice to put down our cellphones while driving may still be at risk when we are passengers simply sharing the road with other distracted drivers,” Pew Senior Research Specialist Mary Madden told TechNewsWorld.

Forty-four percent of adults have been in a car while the driver recklessly used a cellphone in a way that could have hurt them or someone else, the survey also found. One in six respondents, or 16 percent, said they’d been so distracted by their phones that they actually hit something as a result.

Disparate Results

The Pew survey’s findings on adult texting run counter to some other research suggesting that teens are much more likely to engage in what is generally viewed as a predominantly teenaged activity. For instance, a February report released by the Insurance Institutes of Highway Safety found that incidences of reported texting-while driving were highest with 18- to 24-year-olds and declined consistently with age.

Regardless, there’s evidence that texting-while-driving may be on the increase, despite a spate of legislation seeking to stop the practice, as well as a federal Department of Transportation summit and subsequent ban on texting behind the wheel by federal employees.

In January, Pew found that 34 percent of texting adults had sent or received a message while driving, while about 47 percent of all texting adults reported texting and driving in the May survey. Although the wording in the two surveys was somewhat different, it is likely evidence that such activities are becoming increasingly common, Madden said.

Laws Ineffective

Legislation doesn’t seem to be having any impact at all, noted Russ Rader, a spokesperson for the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.

“If politicians think laws against texting and handheld phoning are going to be a big boon for safety, it isn’t coming,” Rader told TechNewsWorld.

The Pew center doesn’t take policy positions and didn’t include any recommendations in its report. But it’s likely that technology may turn out to be the best solution — not just to texting while driving, but all forms of distracted driving.

Technology exists to block cellphone signals while a vehicle is in motion, and automakers are increasingly beginning to equip cars with collision warning systems, equipment that automatically applies the brakes if an accident seems imminent, and even sensing technology that can tell when a driver is falling asleep.

“We have to realize that distracted driving is much bigger than anything we do with our phones, and it’s nothing new,” said Rader. “People have been driving distracted since Henry Ford — whether it’s checking out the driver in the car next to you, scolding the kids at the wrong time, or just daydreaming.”

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