Experts from University of California C San Diego's Trauma Epidemiology and Injury Prevention Research Center analyzed the driving habits of nearly 5,000 college students from UC San Diego, San Diego State University, University of San Diego, CSU San Marcos and eight smaller colleges in the region.
The results show that, despite the safety concerns associated with texting and driving, many college students are tapping out text messages while they're in the driver's seat. Sixty percent said they send texts while in stop-and-go traffic or in city streets, while 87 percent send texts while at traffic lights. Only 12 percent of students said they never text while behind the wheel.
In addition, 52 percent of students said they use hands-free devices at least some of the time, and 25 percent said they use hands-free devices with high frequency. Other research has shown, however, that drivers are dangerously distracted when talking on the phone, whether they use hands-free devices or not.
"Distracted Driving is a highly prevalent behavior in college students who have misplaced confidence in their own driving skills and their ability to multitask," said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine. "Despite the known dangers, distracted driving has become an accepted behavior."
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CADMV), distracted driving is on the rise due to an increase in the use of cell phones and other electronic devices and the increasing importance of these devices in individuals' lives. Studies have shown that phoning and driving increases the risk of crashes four-fold, with hands-free and hand held devices equally dangerous. Texting increases this risk 8-16 times.
"This study highlights the high prevalence of distracted driving in college students, including texting while driving, something we see firsthand each and every day," said assistant chief Robert Clark, Border Division, California Highway Patrol. "The demonstration of misplaced confidence in their own and others' ability to multitask may lead to opportunities for us to educate and employ some risk abatement strategies."
The students' average age was 21 years old; 66 percent were female; 83 percent were undergraduates; and 17 percent were graduates. The UC San Diego research team also included Jill Rybar, MPH, Tara Styer, MPH, and Ethan Fram.