This week’s alarming numbers about nine in 10 teenage drivers engaging in distracted behaviors deserve a closer look.
The widely publicized survey, done for Seventeen magazine and AAA, talked to 2,000 drivers between the ages of 16 and 19.
86 percent of those teens said they engaged in distracted driving at some point. Pretty scary … but let’s take a look at what the survey defined as distracted driving:
The activity drawing the most affirmative responses from the teens (73 percent) was adjusting a radio/CD or MP3 player — an action they have in common with almost every driver on U.S. roads. Consuming food (61 percent) also counted as distracted driving — some truth to that, but no one’s writing laws about driving and eating these days.
Ask adults if they’ve engaged in these behaviors and you’d get an almost universal yes. Headline that report as “99.9% of Adults Distracted Drivers.”
Teens’ use of handheld cell phones — a distracted driving behavior in anyone’s book — came in at 60 percent, a number that seems more in tune with reality. Texting registered 28 percent, which seems low but remember the teens are self-reporting.
Teens say they feel singled out when it comes to legislating drivers’ cell phone use and text messaging. Perhaps that’s a necessary evil, but inflated numbers such as those being headlined in this survey do little to advance the national discussion about teens and distracted driving.
Mainstream media such as USA Today should know better — although we’ve had problems with that newspaper’s sloppy reporting on this issue before. Remember “USA Today botches cell phone report“?
Here are some more numbers from Seventeen/AAA:
Teens who did text behind the wheel averaged 23 messages a month.
84 percent of the teenage drivers said they were aware that these behaviors were dangerous. Those teens explained their reasoning as their actions will only take a split second (41 percent); they don’t think they’ll get hurt (35 percent); they’re used to multitasking (34 percent); and they don’t think that anything bad will happen to them (32 percent).
Nearly four out of 10 of the teens said they’ve been afraid of being hurt while riding with a distracted driver, and more than a third said they had almost been in an accident due to distracted driving.
Seventeen is promoting its “Two-Second Turnoff Day” (Sept. 17) and is asking readers to put together anti-distracted driving videos for the occasion.