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Teenage drivers still using phones

Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Signs that suggest to police a driver might be texting include weaving in traffic, making longer stops, driving at inconsistent speeds and driving with one’s head down.

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By USA Today
Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
 

Nearly seven in 10 young drivers are still texting behind the wheel, and a growing number of them are accessing the Internet on their cellphones while driving, according to a new annual survey by insurer State Farm.

Despite years-long national campaigns against texting while driving, which is now illegal in 39 states and the District of Columbia, 68 percent of young drivers — those 18-29 — reported engaging in the practice, up from 64 percent last year. That compares with 34 percent of all drivers who reported texting while driving, up from 32 percent a year ago.

There were even sharper increases in the equally risky behavior of surfing the Internet while driving: 48 percent of young drivers reported accessing the Web behind the wheel, up from 43 percent last year. Those figures exclude programming a GPS device.

“It could be” that the nation's anti-texting campaigns should include warnings about surfing while driving, said Chris Mullen, State Farm's director of technology research.

“The evolution of the technology — and the speed at which it's changing — requires us to continually change our messaging to make sure it's relevant,” she said.

Since 2009, State Farm has conducted an annual online survey of about 1,000 licensed drivers 18 and older to study drivers' attitudes and behaviors regarding distracted driving.

The Department of Transportation said that 3,092 people were killed and 416,000 were injured in distracted-related crashes in 2010; 18 percent of all injury crashes that year involved a distracted driver.

“The results of the (State Farm) survey tell us that we need to do a better job of reminding drivers that any and all cellphone use behind the wheel is dangerous,” said Jonathan Adkins of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “Teens in particular need to be encouraged to turn the phone off and put it out of sight while driving. As the survey results indicate, we have a long way to go before the public recognizes the dangers of distracted driving.”

Whatever the safety messages, many drivers apparently believe they can safely text and surf while driving.

Patrick Mayer, 35, a technology consultant in Marietta, Ga., who logs about 20,000 miles a year, said he regularly surfs the Internet and texts while his vehicle is moving.

“I do it (surf) if I have to look up something,” he said. “I usually do it at the stoplight or on the highway, usually not on surface streets. I've done it everywhere, dirt roads, wherever I need to look up information.”

Mayer, who said he's had few citations and three minor crashes, none related to distracted driving in 20 years of driving, said he knows that texting and surfing are risky. “But so is putting on your makeup, eating or talking on the phone,” he said.

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