Study: Laws Restricting Texting Aren't Deterring Teens

October 21, 2009
Texting while driving, by Flickr user ericathompson

Texting while driving, by Flickr user ericathompson

A new study finds that state laws banning driving while texting doesn't actually correspond to lower confessed rates of the activity in that state—especially among the youngest drivers.

Part of it looks due to misinformation. Nearly 36 percent of respondents didn't know whether or not driving while texting was banned or restricted in their state.

The study on consumer mobile messaging habits was conducted earlier this year with more than 4,800 subjects—about 100 from each 48 contiguous states—commissioned by Vlingo Corporation, a maker of voice-to-text software, and conducted by the research firm Toluna in the first quarter of 2009. It looked at how and when consumers texted, usage trends, and attitudes toward driving while texting.

Public attitudes continue to sway against allowing the practice. Overall, about 83 percent of respondents thought that driving while texting should be illegal, as opposed to about 74 percent last year. Furthermore 85 percent said that if it were illegal, they would stop texting behind the wheel.

In 2009, 26 percent admitted texting while behind the wheel; that's down only slightly from 2008's figure of 28 percent—though perhaps simply because it's more widely considered a shameful act. Yet in the latest survey, 60 percent of teen drivers polled still admitted to reading incoming texts while behind the wheel.

Texting is on the rise, so something needs to be done. Overall, the survey found that about 60 percent of mobile phone users use their handsets to text, as opposed to 54 percent last year; usage is now also jumping among older groups, not just teens and twenty-somethings.

Teens are more open to the idea of a hands-free solution, according to the study; while 62 percent of teens support making texting while driving illegal, just 34 percent think that it should be illegal if a hands-free solution were available.

However, this study, with ties to the industry, suggests that voice-enabled texting would increase usage. Would we have fewer instances of severe distraction due to the physical act of holding the phone, replaced by more instances of supposedly lesser cognitive distraction?

Speeding up, slowing down and weaving back and forth are all caused by texting

Speeding up, slowing down and weaving back and forth are all caused by texting

While a number of studies with research gathered in laboratories have suggested that the cognitive act of carrying on a conversation from behind the wheel is distracting, new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute results from earlier this year, gathered 'naturalistically, (with onboard cameras) found the act of dialing or physically texting to be far more risky.

And speaking of risk…If you're driving through Tennessee, watch out; the state placed tops this year and next to the top last year, in the Continental U.S., for texting while driving, with about 40 percent admitting to it. Or maybe Tennesseeans are just more honest about it.

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