A new study from the United States shows that texting while driving has now overtaken drinking and driving as the primary cause of death among teens in the country, claiming 3,000 lives a year, compared to 2,700 who are killed as a result of driving while under the influence of alcohol.
According to a CBS New York report, the study, by the Cohen Children’s Medical Centre in New Hyde Park on Long Island, found that despite most states having enacted laws to prohibit texting while driving, accompanied by road safety campaigns, most male teens who drive continue to text at the wheel – 57 per cent in states that ban it, and 59 per cent in states that don’t.
The findings are in line with a similar study published last year in the US by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that 58 per cent of high school seniors admitted having texted or emailed while driving during the previous month, reported on NBC News.
“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,” the author of the latest study, Dr Andrew Adesman, who is in charge of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center told CBS.
He has suggested that one way of combating the danger would be through employing mobile phone apps that sense when a vehicle is in motion and prevent a phone from making or receiving text messages, among other things – such technology has been around for a while, for example the Otter app we profiled back in 2010.
Last year in the UK, road safety charity IAM published results of research it had conducted using the Transport Research Laboratory’s DigiCar simulator which found that accessing social networks while driving was more dangerous than driving while drunk or after smoking cannabis.
A survey from Halfords earlier this year into smartphone use at the wheel found, among other things, that 57 per cent of under-25s admitted reading text messages while driving.
While that percentage is strikingly similar to the US report's findings, it may hide underlying differences - the age groups are different, teens in many US states can drive at a much earlier age than their counterparts in the UK, and here alcohol is much more widely available to younger people.
Dave Poulter, the company’s In-Car Technology Manager, said that the survey results “paint a disturbing picture of what is happening on the UK’s roads and the emerging trend towards using mobile phones to link with social media while driving is extremely worrying.”
Reaction on radio phone-in shows to the Cohen Children's Medical Centre's survey reflected a lack of surprise about the findings.
One caller told WCBS 880: “Every single day I see it. People driving along, texting, talking on their phone. They’re not supposed to do it, but they do it — kids, grown-ups, everybody does it.”
A former police officer told 1010 WINS: “I’ve seen it first-hand, it does cause accidents, it’s dangerous and it’s irresponsible. A vehicle is a weapon, just as a gun or a knife, and you can kill people.
“You don’t deserve to have a driver’s license and that level of responsibility where you can kill people if you’re not willing to take precautions, such as not texting and driving.”
According to CBS New York, studies have found that people texting while driving are up to 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision.
Schools including the New York Institute of Technology and Freeport High School have had students take part in driving simulations that highlight just how dangerous it is to text while at the wheel, it reports.
Earlier this month, Florida became the 40th of the 50 states of the USA to ban texting while driving. In New York, one senator has called for tougher laws to be imposed on offenders.
Senator Charles Fuschillo, who represents Long Island in the New York State Senate, said in March that fines should be increased and that there should be harsher penalties for repeat transgressors.
“It goes up to $400 but all the penalties in the world aren’t going to stop someone from being irresponsible,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.