A new survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project suggests that, when it comes to cell phones and driving, most Americans are engaging in some decidedly risky behavior.
According to the study, around 27 percent of American adults reported texting while driving, versus 26 percent of driving-age teenagers. Those numbers might represent a statistical dead heat, but the total number of surveyed adults who have used a cell phone while behind the wheel-61 percent-greatly outpaced the 43 percent of all American teens who did so.
If the data is isolated to those adults who actually own cell phones, as opposed to the total survey sample, the numbers become even starker: some 75 percent of those report having talked on a cell phone while driving, as opposed to 52 percent of cell phone-owning teens between the ages of 16-17. Of adults who regularly send text messages, some 47 percent report having sent or read a text message while driving-versus 34 percent of teens who regularly text.
The study's sample pool totaled 2,252 adults, with 1,917 being cell phone owners and 1,189 using text messaging. The data from teenagers came from a separate study, conducted by Princeton Survey Research International, which sampled 800 individuals between the ages of 12-17 along with a parent or guardian.
Perhaps more disconcerting, 17 percent of "cell-toting adults say they have been so distracted while talking or texting that they have bumped into another person or object," according to the report's overview. "That amounts to 14 [percent] of all American adults who have been so engrossed in talking, texting or otherwise using their cell phones that they bumped into something or someone."
On top of that, "49 percent of adults say they have been passengers in car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone," and 44 percent said they had been passengers "of drivers who used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger."
Some seven states and the District of Columbia have banned handheld cell-phone use while driving; another 28 have banned cell use by "novice drivers," 28 forbid texting while driving, and 18 have bans on cell use by bus drivers. The Pew report notes that "The Distracted Driving Prevention Act, introduced last fall by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would provide incentive grants to states that ban texting and handheld cell phone use for all drivers and would require a complete ban on cell phone use by drivers under the age of 18."
A number of studies over the years have either suggested the dangers of phoning while driving, or have outright advocated banning the practice. In 2009, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) issued a study suggesting that texting-while-driving be stopped, in order to prevent unnecessary distraction and crashes. The study suggested that text messaging on a cell phone while driving carried a risk 20 times greater than driving while not using a phone.
"Given the recent catastrophic crash events and disturbing trends, there is an alarming amount of misinformation and confusion regarding cell phone and texting use while behind the wheel of a vehicle," VTTI Director Tom Dingus said in a July 2009 statement.
The Pew report also notes that 744 of the subject interviews were conducted on cell phones. Hopefully none of them were driving at the time.