By Matt Schmitz on December 11, 2013
Either we as a nation owe our teen motorists a collective apology for wrongly stereotyping them as reckless users of smartphones while driving, or those teens are lying to researchers. According to a recent study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, adults ages 25-39 admitted to being the greatest perpetrators of one of the most dangerous practices on U.S. roadways — talking, texting or emailing while behind the wheel — which research has shown nearly quadruples the risk of a crash.
High-school-age teens reported using their handheld devices substantially less than adults do, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom. While two out of three drivers overall reported using a phone while driving within the past month, a whopping 43 percent of adults ages 25-39 reported doing so "fairly often or regularly," compared with only 20 percent of teens and only 15 percent of adults ages 60-74. The survey questioned 2,325 drivers for the 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index.
"It's noteworthy that the young novice drivers are using their phones while driving less than older drivers since, given their inexperience, they are especially susceptible to distracted driving crashes," Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a statement. "At the same time, it is discouraging that cell phone usage picks up when drivers gain more experience, as using a phone can lead to dangerous distractions behind the wheel."
Specific to sending a text or email while driving, adults ages 25-39 again led the pack with 45 percent admitting to having done so recently, with 10 percent doing so regularly. Motorists ages 19-24 closed the gap in this measure, with 42 percent texting while driving, 11 percent regularly. Meanwhile teens ages 16-18 remained less-frequent offenders, with 31 percent texting or emailing recently, 7 percent regularly.
Despite all age groups using their phones while driving to some degree, all report knowing better. Nearly nine in 10 motorists believe distracted driving is a bigger problem now than three years ago and that other drivers' phone use is a "serious threat to their personal safety." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that around 10 percent of fatal crashes — about 3,000 per year — involve distraction.
News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt