When you think about people texting behind the wheel, the image you might conjure up is of a teenager mindlessly clicking away on his smartphone while cruising down the highway. But new texting and driving statistics suggest that it’s actually adult drivers who are the worst offenders.
AT&T surveyed 1,011 adult drivers in April 2012 about their texting habits behind the wheel. Of those surveyed, 49 percent admitted to texting while driving, compared to 43 percent of teens. Ironically, 98 percent of the surveyed adults said they knew that texting while driving was wrong.
“These findings are pretty daunting, and they’re probably going to get worse,” says Tasso Roumeliotis, CEO of Location Labs, a firm that develops technology aimed at preventing cellphone use while driving by allowing parents to remotely monitor their teens’ driving and cellphone behaviors. “People are having an increasingly difficult time resisting the need to reply to these social interactions, and it’s a dangerous trend.”
According to a February study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than nine people are killed each day in crashes caused by distracted driving. According to the Department of Transportation, 3,331 people died in distracted-driving accidents in 2011, up from the 2010 figure of 3,267.
What’s more, the trend shows no signs of slowing down. The CDC study also found that 31 percent of all drivers—adults and teens—in the U.S. regularly text or email while behind the wheel.
“These studies all underline what we already know. We think using cellphones while driving is unsafe—except for us,” says Anne Marie Hayes, president of the Teens Learn to Drive Foundation. “We think we are better, safer, faster and smarter than everyone else.”
Texting and driving statistics
Unfortunately, laws against cellphone use behind the wheel have had little effect. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 39 states and the District of Columbia now ban texting while driving for all drivers. Moreover, five additional states prohibit the practice for new drivers until they’ve been licensed for two to three years.
“We’ve done studies looking at the laws restricting phone use while driving, and we’ve found that the laws have not reduced crashes,” says IIHS spokesman Russ Rader. “Not only have crashes not gone down, they’ve actually increased as laws have been enacted. That’s very curious to us.”
AT&T’s recent study, which was released in December 2012, was part of its It Can Wait campaign, which attempts to raise public awareness of the dangers of cellphone use behind the wheel. According to the company’s website, more than 1.3 million drivers have pledged to change their behavior. Still, Roumeliotis says, only time will tell if any of these initiatives will help curb the behavior.
There’s also a human instinct factor to consider. People know texting while driving is dangerous, but they do it anyway.
“Almost everyone has been in that situation where they hit the ‘send’ button and see the car stop abruptly in front of them. They say, ‘Wow, I can’t do that again.’ So you don’t do it for 15 minutes,” Roumeliotis says. “Then you do it again.”
Changing this behavior, Roumeliotis says, is “a tough battle to wage.”