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40% of High School Drivers Text While Driving

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:,
Motao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD Principal Investigator Center for Injury Research and Policy The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital? Columbus, OHMotao Zhu, MD, MS, PhD
Principal Investigator
Center for Injury Research and Policy
The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital?
Columbus, OH

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: We know that texting while driving occurs frequently among teen drivers. This study looks at the differences of texting while driving among teens between states.

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. In 2016, over 2,000 teens in the US aged 14-18 years died in motor vehicle crashes and nearly 260,000 were seriously injured in traffic-related incidents. Even though there are cheap car insurance brokers available, teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers on the road. Among distracted driving, texting while driving may be especially risky because it involves at least three types of driver distraction: visual, physical, and cognitive. Texting while driving is banned for all drivers in 47 states and the District of Columbia, yet this study shows it still occurs regularly among teen drivers.

Overall (nationally), about 40% of high school student drivers text while driving at least once/month. The rate varies among states. The lowest is 26% (Maryland) and highest is 64% (South Dakota). Texting while driving among high school student drivers is highest in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska.

These results were not surprising. There are state level factors to explain them. The top 5 highest texting while driving among high school student drivers (Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska) are rural states with a high percent of high school student drivers and students can get their learners permit by age 15.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Parents have a role to play to keep teens and other drivers safer on the road. Parents must be a good role model. Drive distraction-free. Don’t use your cellphone while driving. Parents can also set clear rules even after their teen gets his/her license. No cellphone use while driving.

There are also policy changes to help eliminate teen texting and driving. First, policymakers could enact texting while driving bans for all age drivers for the 3 states (Arizona, Montana, and Missouri) without these bans. Currently, texting while driving is banned for all drivers (universal texting ban) in 47 states. Second, policy makers could make texting while driving a primary offense. In 4 states, texting while driving is a secondary offense, meaning drivers cannot get a ticket for texting while driving – they have to get pulled over for something else (a primary offense) like speeding or running a red light or getting into a crash – to get ticketed for texting while driving. Third, better enforcement (more traffic tickets for texting drivers) is needed to deter drivers from texting while driving. Our previous study found that cellphone tickets accounted for only 1 percent of all traffic tickets. Fourth, adding handheld calling bans may have a better effect on texting while driving than texting bans alone. Banning both handheld calling and texting may be easier to enforce. Currently, talking on a handheld cellphone while driving is banned in 16 states.

Educational PSAs or other activities to teach teen drivers about the dangers of texting while driving may also be beneficial.


Texting/Emailing While Driving Among High School Students in 35 States, United States, 2015 Li, Li et al.
Journal of Adolescent Health , Volume 0 , Issue 0 ,

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Last Updated on August 21, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD