What’s the worst thing a teenager (or anyone) can do while driving?
Drink, of course. Right?
Maybe not – according to one analysis of a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The analysis, done by researchers at a medical center in New York, estimates that 3,000 teens in the United States are killed annually in accidents caused by texting and driving. Another 300,000 are injured.
That compares with 2,700 young people killed yearly as a result of drinking and driving, according to the CDC. About 282,000 are treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by drinking accidents.
A driver uses two hand held mobile phones at once, in a NYC traffic jam.
The chief author of the study is Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center. Adesman and his team examined the CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
The nationwide survey, taken anonymously, showed that while driving between September 2010 and December 2011, among 8,947 teenagers aged 15-18, an estimated 49 percent of boys and 45 percent of girls admitted to texting while driving.
Actually, it makes sense that texting would be fated to become the more potent threat. As Adesman, an expert on teen behavior commented: “The reality is kids aren’t drinking seven days per week — they are carrying their phones and texting seven days per week, so you intuitively know this a more common occurrence."
Another trend shown by the survey that we could have seen coming down the road: Texting gets worse as kids get older.
Only 24 percent of 15-year-olds texted while driving. But about 43 percent of juniors in high school admitted that they typed and drove. And seniors? You’d think they’d be more mature. But of the group who would soon be turning their tassels and taking on the world, 58 percent had tapped out texts or emails from behind the wheel.
Yet, at second glance, that makes sense as well. With today’s graduated driver licensing programs, younger drivers get more supervision. Even parents who text and drive themselves might get scared straight after watching their kids do it. But when young drivers get older, legal restrictions on cell use are lifted, supervision is relaxed, and texting rises accordingly.
And Adesman asserts that laws tend to be toothless where texting is concerned.
“When we compared states where there are no laws in effect (barring texting while operating a moving vehicle) and states where there are laws on the books, we found there was no difference in (teenagers’) responses," he said. "Clearly, the laws are not effective."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. Text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted.
But what to do? Obviously, Mom and Dad are the front-seat soldiers in this battle. If you’re a parent, these 10 tips on preventing teen texting from “The Car Connection” can provide some ideas.
And phones themselves may provide part of the solution to the problem they’ve created. There are apps to prevent a phone from being used to text while driving. But as an article in “Forbes” comments, these require parents to download, install and manage the applications – for kids who might well be tech savvy enough to disable them. The writer goes on to suggest smart phones be made with anti-text-and-drive technology built in – tapping in to a huge market along the way.
At any rate, learning that the danger of texting and driving has reached this level means we have received valuable news.
It is, one might say, a wake-up call.
Related article: UNC’S “Time to Drive” app enhances teen driver education