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JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page
December 2014

Texting and Driving

JAMA Pediatr. 2014;168(12):1172. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2013.3385

Adolescents are generally a healthy age group. The major cause of injury and death in this population is unintentional injury, particularly motor vehicle crashes. In recent years, texting has become a new behavior that has impacted teen driving.

About 80% of US teens aged 16 to 17 years own a cell phone. More than half of US teens have talked on the phone while driving and about one-third report texting and driving.

Texting and driving is dangerous because it distracts drivers and takes their eyes away from the road. It is estimated that the minimal amount of time a driver’s attention is taken away from the road when texting is 5 seconds, which, at a speed of 55 mph, equals driving about the length of a football field without looking at the road. It is estimated that teens who text while driving spend approximately 10% of driving time outside of their lane. The first year of having a driver’s license is a high-risk time for crashes and texting while driving is estimated to increase the risk of a crash by 23 times.

Teens often think that texting and driving is not a problem. Approximately 75% of teens report they feel confident that they can text and drive. This may be because teens often see others text and drive; about half of teens report seeing their parents talk on the phone while driving and 15% report having seen their parents text and drive. Thus, it is critical that parents educate their teens about texting and driving and establish rules to prevent it.

Strategies to Reduce Texting and Driving

It can be useful to review the following US laws:

  • Ten states prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones

  • Thirty-two states prohibit new drivers from cell phone use

  • Thirty-nine states prohibit text messaging

A state-by-state list is available at http://www.textinganddrivingsafety.com/texting-laws/.

Several anti–texting and driving mobile apps aim to reduce texting and driving behavior. A few examples include Live2Txt, an Android app that blocks incoming texts and calls while driving and sends a message to senders that the driver cannot respond right now, as well as TXT Shield and AT&T DriveMode, 2 apps that use a global positioning system to monitor the speed of the car and shut down the phone’s ability to text when the car is going faster than a certain speed, usually between 10 and 25 mph.

Moreover, several organizations are dedicated to texting and driving awareness, including Facebook, Twitter (@DistractionGov, @NHTSAgov, and @DriveSafely), and the following blogs: http://www.fromreidsdad.org/, http://rookiedriver.wordpress.com/, and http://enddd.org/.

In addition, advise your teen to turn the volume of the phone off while driving. The less the phone is heard, the less tempted a driver will be to respond to it while driving. Some phones have a Do Not Disturb setting that silences texts and calls.

Finally, you can establish rules with your teen, such as signing a text-free driving pledge, encouraging your teen to put the phone where it cannot be reached when he or she is in the driver’s seat, and urging teens driving with passengers to ask a passenger to be the designated texter. Moreover, every drive in the car with your child is an opportunity to role model safe driving habits. As teens get closer to the age in which they will begin driving, it is even more critical to role model driving habits that you want your child to practice, especially avoiding phone use.

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The JAMA Pediatrics Patient Page is a public service of JAMA Pediatrics. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your child’s medical condition, JAMA Pediatrics suggests that you consult your child’s physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.