A new study is recommending tougher laws for texting while driving after it was determined that more than a third of teenage drivers engage in the dangerous – and possibly deadly – activity while behind the wheel.
Researchers surveyed 101,397 teens age 14 and up, from 35 states, who had driven a vehicle in the past 30 days. All but one of the states banned texting by drivers under age 21. However, 38% of the teens said they had texted while driving at least once.
The results make the case for stronger enforcement of laws on mobile phone use while driving but are also a warning to parents, Motao Zhu, the study’s senior author, told Reuters.
“We see a huge issue … texting while driving is severely underenforced so we don’t see many tickets for texting drivers,” said Zhu, who is principal investigator in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
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Adding to the problem is that in states where drivers are permitted behind the wheel, the percentage of those texting behind the wheel rises to nearly 50%.
The five states where more than 50% of teen drivers reported texting while driving—Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming—granted learner’s permits at age 15 or younger.
More than one in five students aged 14 or 15 reported driving before they were eligible for a learner’s permit, and one in six of these drivers had texted while driving without a permit, the study noted.
“The earlier teens start driving, the earlier they start texting while driving,” Zhu said.
Between ages of 15 and 16, the texting rate doubled and continued to rise through age 17 and beyond, the study authors found. They note that white teens were more likely to text while driving than students of all other races. Young drivers who wore seat belts were less likely to text while driving.
A separate study recently found that adolescents drive dangerously once their license allows them to hit the road without a grownup in the car, even if they are cautious while learning to drive.
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“Study after study has shown that texting while driving remains an extremely common behavior in teens and other age groups despite all the attention and laws that have been implemented,” said Dr. Kit Delgado, a trauma center emergency physician and an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.