Young drivers using cell phones more likely to have other dangerous driving habits

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Cell phones, as well as other mobile devices, have proven to be major distractions in today’s society, but they can also be a dangerous distraction on the road. In the hands of younger drivers, a recent study finds using a mobile phone increases the chances of also engaging in other potentially life-threatening behaviors while driving.

Statistically, nearly 80 percent of drivers use their phones while driving. According to the National Safety Council, approximately 1.6 million car accidents each year are a result of distracted driving while using a phone. This includes the thousands of people killed each year by others who text and drive.

Regardless of the risk, statistics report nearly the same, if not more, incidents each year due to cell phone use. The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania collaborated with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to investigate the possible reasons behind this risky behavior.

Phones feeding the need for speed?

While focusing on individuals in the 18-24 age bracket, they found that those who are frequently on their phones while driving have a higher probability of engaging in other high-risk activities, such as disregarding different speed zones and intentionally racing through intersections to beat red lights.

“This study found that frequent cell phone use while driving was only one indicator of a more general pattern of risky driving practices associated with prior crashes in young drivers,” says lead study author Elizabeth Walshe, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at CHOP, in a media release.

“Assessment of personality traits, such as impulsivity and sensation-seeking, may be helpful to identify drivers most at risk in order to provide more targeted interventions promoting safe driving.”

For the investigation, 384 U.S. individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 completed questionnaires regarding their usual driving habits. Each individual reported on all car accidents they had been involved in, as well as their use of cell phones while driving. They also expanded on any other impulsive behaviors behind the wheel.

3 in 4 people who crash use their phone

Results showed nearly half (44.5%) of all participants had at least one car accident where they were the driver. Moreover, 73 percent of those who had previously wrecked, admitted to frequently using their phones while driving.

The majority of the participants also admitted other impulsive behaviors that increase the risk of having an accident. These included intentional speeding, flying past other cars to pass them, and racing to beat red lights. Although researchers consider cell phones use while driving a high-risk activity, the study finds their use was not the only factor in the participants’ accidents — pointing to a combination of poor choices behind the wheel causing crashes.

“It may be useful to treat cell phone use while driving as part of a group of risky driving behaviors, such as driving while impaired by alcohol,” explains study co-author Dan Romer, Ph.D., research director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and a senior fellow at CIRP. “For example, messages to enhance driver safety might focus on a larger range of hazardous practices that place the driver and others at risk rather than citing only one, like cell phone use.”

This findings appear in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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