November 16, 2009

Teens and Distracted Driving

26% of American teens ages 16 and 17 say they’ve texted while behind the wheel;

48% of teens 12 to 17 say that they’ve been passengers in a car while the driver used a cell phone to send or receive text messages

WASHINGTON – One in four (26%) of American teens of driving age say they have texted while driving, and half (48%) of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been a passenger while a driver has texted behind the wheel.

These findings form the centerpiece of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that looks at teens, mobile phones and distracted driving. The report is based on a telephone survey of 800 teens ages 12-17 and a parent or guardian as well as 9 focus groups with middle and high school students.

Boys and girls are equally likely to report texting behind the wheel as well as riding with texting drivers. As teens get older, they are more likely to report riding with drivers who text.

“Cell phones are often seen as devices that can make our lives more efficient, allowing us to multi-task in our idle moments,” said Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist at the Internet & American Life Project and co-author of the report, “and whether you’re a teenager or an adult, it’s tempting to think you can manage several different activities at once.”

Data collected from the teen focus groups suggests that it is not just teens who are texting behind the wheel. Many teens told of parents and other adult relatives texting and driving while they rode along. When one high school-aged boy was asked how often he was in a moving vehicle driven by a texting driver, he replied: “All the time. My mom, sister or brother will sit behind the wheel the whole time and just text away.”

Other main findings from the Teens and Distracted Driving Report:

  • 52% of cell-phone owning teens ages 16-17 have talked on a cell phone while driving, which translates into 43% of all teens of driving age.
  • 40% of all teens 12-17 say they have been a passenger in a car when the driver used the cell phone in a manner that placed them or others in danger.
  • 58% of teens who text have been passengers in cars with other texting drivers, compared to 28% of teens who do not use text messaging.
  • 44% of teens who text have been passengers in cars when the driver is using the phone dangerously, compared to 31% of non-texting teens who have had this experience.

“Many teens understand the risks of texting behind the wheel,” said Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist at the Internet & American Life Project and co-author of the distracted driving report, “but the desire to stay connected is so strong for teens and their parents that safety sometimes takes a backseat to staying in touch with friends and family.”

This report is based on the findings of a telephone survey of teens’ and parents’ use of mobile phones and 9 focus groups conducted in 4 U.S. cities between June and October 2009 with teens between the ages of 12 and 18. The quantitative results in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between June 26 and September 24, 2009, among a sample of 800 teens ages 12-17 and a parent or guardian.  For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the internet and how their activities affect their lives.