In the survey, fewer teens view texting while driving as leading to fatal consequences as compared to drinking while driving. Of 14-17 years-olds who intend to have or already have a driver’s license, the survey found that 36 percent strongly agree that if they regularly text and drive they could be killed one day. In contrast, the majority of teens (55 percent) strongly agree that drinking while driving could be fatal.
The survey also showed that teens think the chances of getting into an accident are still higher when drinking while driving versus texting while driving. In the survey, of these same teens, 63 percent strongly agree they could get into an accident if they text and drive. This compares with 78 percent who strongly agree they could get into an accident if they drink and drive. The survey was conducted in July among 697 U.S. teens 14-17 years of age.
The awareness gap becomes more pronounced among teens who admit to texting while driving versus teens who refrain from the practice. Among teens that have never texted while driving, 73 percent strongly agree they will get into an accident if they text and drive. Yet among teens that admit to texting while driving, only 52 percent strongly agree they will get into an accident as a result of the practice.
“Some teens still think the consequences of reaching for a cell phone are less severe than reaching for a beer bottle,” said Laurette Stiles, vice president of Strategic Resources at State Farm. “We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to helping teens understand that texting while driving can be every bit as dangerous as drinking while driving. It’s an awareness gap that must be addressed.”
In the survey, aspiring and current teen drivers also think their chances of narrowly avoiding an accident are better texting while driving versus drinking while driving. With texting while driving, 55 percent of these teens agree they will have some situations when they almost get into an accident but will recover just in time. This compares to 36 percent of these teens who agree they can recover just in time in situations where they are drinking and driving.
While many teens may believe their ability to respond during a texting while driving incident is greater than with drinking while driving, research shows that texting may be as dangerous as or more so than drinking. In a 2008 study by the United Kingdom’s Transport Research Laboratory, reaction time of drivers 17-24 years of age was reduced by 35 percent when typing a text message, compared with 12 percent when driving after consuming alcohol to the legal limit. A similar study was released in 2006 by the University of Utah using participants 22-34 years of age. This study found that the impairments associated with talking on a cell phone can be as profound as those associated with driving while intoxicated during those times when drivers are directly engaged in cell phone use. Researchers also pointed out that drinking creates impairment throughout the entire practice of driving. They found that texting while driving only creates impairment while the driver is directly engaged in the practice. Once reengaged in driving, drivers who text do not display the same characteristics as intoxicated drivers during routine operation of a motor vehicle.
The National Safety Council estimates that 200,000 crashes each year are caused by drivers who are texting.
The Role of Parents
The survey also underscores that parental engagement on texting while driving is not fully breaking through when compared to discussions about drinking and driving.
Of teens who talk often with their parents about driving, 82 percent strongly agree that if they regularly drink and drive they will get into an accident. That number falls to 72 percent among teens who rarely or never talk to their parents about driving.
A similar pattern was evident around texting while driving but in these cases teens view the consequences of texting as less severe. In the survey, 67 percent of teens who often talk to their parents about driving strongly agree that if they regularly text and drive someday they will get into an accident. This compared with 56 percent of teens who rarely or never talk to their parents about driving.