Texting and driving: the role of teenage passengers

Texting and driving is not only more common among young people, it seems to be more accepted – at least tacitly. A new study says that younger teenage passengers are least likely to speak up if a driver is texting and driving.

Matt Rourke/AP
States have passed a slew of new laws to prevent texting and driving, especially among teenage passengers. Here, in March 2012, vehicles driving in the direction of Philadelphia pass a sign near the entrance to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge warning of a new law in Pennsylvania.

More from the “I am not going to let my baby drive until she’s 30 years old,” department:

Young people are the least likely passengers to tell drivers to stop texting and driving or to stop talking on the cell phone, according to a new survey analysis released today from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The finding stems from a U.S. Department of Transportation survey that polled more than 6,000 drivers to “assess the public’s attitudes, knowledge, and self-reported behavior related to cell phones.”

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While nearly all of the respondents considered texting and driving to be “very unsafe,” only a third of the younger respondents (those most likely to either text or to be in the car with someone texting behind the wheel) reported that they would speak up if they were a passenger and the driver was on the phone.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a statement, once again saying, essentially, c’mon people.

“Distracted driving is an epidemic on our roadways, and these new findings show that our youngest drivers are particularly at risk,” he said. “We’re encouraging young people across America to commit to distraction-free driving, spread the word to their family and friends, and speak up if the driver in their car is distracted.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Around the world in 16 babies!

In case you’ve missed the background, the Department of Transportation has launched a huge “distracted driving” campaign. Although the department is referring to all sorts of distractions – from GPS screens to eating while driving – a main focus of the public health effort is on reducing cell phone use behind the wheel.

It attempts in particular to reach younger drivers. The department's statistics show that drivers younger than 25 are two to three times more likely to send a text or read an email while driving; drivers 18 to 20 years old also report the highest level of phone involvement in crashes or near crashes.

Every few weeks we get even more information about how texting behind the wheel is a really, really bad idea.  We also get the rather disheartening statistics about how drivers – especially young drivers – still do it. A lot.

Any thoughts out there about how to change this teen – and adult – behavior?

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