We make a lot of assumptions about distracted driving. More often than not, we assume the culprits are teens tethered to their smartphones, but numerous studies have shown that mom and dad exhibit poor decision-making skills, too.
A group of researchers from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston wanted to get a better grasp of the problem. Among other things, they wanted to paint a portrait of today's distracted driver. And so, according to the New York Times, they did what researchers have done for centuries: they set up camp and observed subjects in their natural habitat.
Specifically, the researchers positioned themselves at intersections in Austin, Brownsville, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio. Over the course of two years, from 2011 to 2013, they made detailed observations of 1,280 drivers.
In analyzing those drivers' actions, the researchers uncovered some interesting details:
- With age comes wisdom: drivers under the age of 25 (based on observed age assessments) are over four times as likely to use mobile phones while driving than older drivers.
- Women love to chat: women are 63 percent more likely than men to talk on the phone while driving.
- Women also love to text: women are over twice as likely to text while driving than men.
- Talking on the phone is on the decline: in 2011, researchers observed 20.5 percent of drivers taking calls behind the wheel, but by 2013, that number had fallen to 16.4 percent
- Texting, however, has increased: in 2011, 6.4 percent of drivers were observed texting behind the wheel, but in 2013, that figure had risen to 8.4 percent.
- One is the loneliest number: drivers traveling alone are over four times as likely to talk on the phone as those with passengers in the car.
One of the study's conclusions is that "Cell phone use and texting bans should target females and younger drivers." (FWIW, of the four researchers involved in the study, it appears that at least two were female.)
This was not a be-all, end-all study. While the sample population was of reasonable size, observations took place only "at major intersections in medical and academic campuses", and subjects were not evenly divided, male and female. (Also, as mentioned above, observation took place only in Texas.) A full 70 percent were driving without passengers -- perhaps because the environment was, for many, a workplace.
That's not to say that the results of the study are inaccurate, only that they may not fully reflect society as a whole.
Also, the idea of developing laws and regulatory practices that target women is at worst illegal, and at best an untenable position for any politician to take.
That said, the study provides some data to suggest that education and awareness programs tailored specifically to young women could substantially reduce the number of distracted drivers on the road.
If you've got time this Tuesday, you'll find a copy of the study here.