June 18, 2010

Adults and cell phone distractions

American adults are just as likely to have texted while driving as teenagers – and substantially more likely than teens to have talked on their cell phones while driving  

27% of adults say they have sent or read text messages while driving;
61% have talked on a cell phone while driving

WASHINGTON – One in four (27%) American adults say they have texted while driving, the same proportion as the number of driving age teens (26%) who say they have texted while driving.

Fully 61% of adults say they have talked on their cell phones while they were behind the wheel. That is considerably greater than the number of 16- and 17-year-olds (43%) who have talked on their cells while driving.  In addition, 49% of adults say they have been passengers in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone. Overall, 44% of adults say they have been passengers of drivers who used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.

Beyond driving, one in six (17%) cell-toting adults say they have been so distracted while talking or texting that they have physically bumped into another person or an object. That amounts to 14% 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.

These findings form the centerpiece of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project that looks at adults and cell phone distractions. These findings come from a nationwide phone survey of 2,252 American adults (744 of the interviews were conducted on cell phones) conducted between April 29 and May 30. The margin of error in the full sample is two percentage points and in the cell subpopulation is three percentage points.

Adult cell phone owners are just as likely as teens to have texted while driving and are substantially more likely to have talked on the phone while driving.

“While previous research has shown that one in four teen drivers text at the wheel, this data suggests that adults are now just as likely to engage in this risky behavior” said Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist at the Internet & American Life Project and co-author of the report. “Adults may be the ones sounding the alarm on the dangers of distracted driving, but they don’t always set the best example themselves.”  

Other main findings from the Adults and Cell Phone Distractions Report:

  • Eight in ten (82%) American adults now own cell phones and 58% send or receive text messages. By comparison, a September 2009 Pew Internet survey found that 75% of all American teens ages 12-17 own a cell phone, and 66% text.
  • Male texters are more likely to report texting at the wheel; 51% of men who use text messaging say they have sent or read messages while driving while 42% of women texters say the same.
  • Those in the Millennial generation (ages 18-33) are more likely than any other age group to report texting while driving. While 59% of texting Millennials say they have sent or read messages at the wheel, 50% of text-using Gen Xers (ages 34-45) and 29% of texting Baby Boomers (ages 46-64) report the same.
  • Half (49%) of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver was sending or reading text messages on their cell phone. The same number (48%) of all teens ages 12-17 said they had been in a car “when the driver was texting.”
  • 44% of all adults say they have been in a car when the driver used the cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger. About the same number of teens (40%) said they had been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a dangerous way.

“It is just as hard for adults as it is for teenagers to resist chatting with friends and sending off that quick text even in the midst of heavy traffic,” said Lee Rainie, Director of the Internet & American Life Project and co-author of the distractions report. “Constant mobile connectivity to friends, family and colleagues is a hallmark of age and it is hard to resist even in situations where it would seem smart to stay focused on the task at hand.”

Distracted driving - Table


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.