“We have talked to a lot of kids who say, ‘I can text with my phone still in my pocket, so I certainly can text while I’m driving,'” says Bernie Fette, a senior research specialist at the Texas Transportation Institute. “But being comfortable with technology doesn’t add security when you use it in an environment where it creates danger.”
A new report by the Institute indicates that nighttime driving is especially risky for teenage drivers – especially when combined with talking on a cell phone or texting while driving. Alcohol accounts for why an increasing percentage of fatal car accidents are happening at night among drivers over 20. For younger drivers, the study suggests that cell phone and texting distractions are the cause.
For drivers 16 to 19 years old, the proportion of fatal car accidents occurring at night increased substantially between 1999 to 2008. This was true despite the fact that the total number of fatal crashes decreased for the age group. The Texas Transportation Institute report used crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
The report’s conclusion is that talking on a cell phone and texting while driving are the likely causes of that increase. “We know driving at night is dangerous. We know using a cell phone behind the wheel compromises your ability to drive,” explained Fette. “Put those together and you’ve created a perfect storm.”
Unfortunately, only 3 percent of teen drivers considered night driving a risk, according to the Institute’s survey of 20,000 teenaged drivers in Texas. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of teens talk on cell phones while driving, and 34 percent text behind the wheel.
While using cell phones and texting while driving are illegal in some states, Florida currently has no such law in place. A ban on texting while driving passed the Florida State Senate this year but died in the House.
“Cell phones raise teen nighttime driving risks” (Associated Press, May 6, 2010)