Teenagers continue to text and use their phones behind the wheel, despite the known risks of this behavior. In fact, according to USA Today, a 2014 study of college students showed that 89 percent were placing or responding to cell phone calls as they drove, and 79 percent were either sending or receiving texts while operating a vehicle. Surprisingly, another study revealed that many young people are communicating not only with friends, but with parents.

A recent American Psychological Association study about teen driving behavior, conducted by a total of 408 teens across 31 states, revealed that many young people are talking or texting with their parents as they drive. The teens, who were between the ages of 15 and 18, shared information about their phone use while driving:

  • 37 percent of survey respondents between the ages of 15 and 17 who were driving with restricted licenses admitted to either texting with or talking to their parents at the same time as they were driving.
  • 50 percent of survey respondents who were 18 and who no longer had a restricted license said that they talked or texted with their parents as they drove.
  • 53 percent of teenagers who talked on the phone spoke to a parent, rather than to a friend. Just 46 percent of calls were made to friends. When it comes to texting, however, teenagers were more likely to use this method to communicate with friends rather than parents as they drove.

The findings came as a surprise to the psychologist who conducted the research, since parents generally try to set rules for teens that discourage dangerous driving behaviors. The researcher suggested that “If parents would not call their teens while they’re driving, it would reduce teen distracted driving.” Teens also said that their own behavior was shaped by the fact that they generally saw parents on the phone when the parent was driving.

Distracted driving has potentially grave consequences for teens and parents alike. Motor vehicle collisions remain a leading cause of death, especially among teens and children. An estimated 11 percent of fatal accidents involving teen drivers occur when the teenager is distracted behind the wheel. Of the distracted driving collisions that occur, 21 percent involve the use of a cell phone while driving.

Parents should know the risks and do everything they can to prevent their teens from picking up the phone while behind the wheel. Avoiding calling while a teen is driving is the first step. For parents with new drivers, it may be beneficial to have them call or text before getting in the car to drive somewhere and upon arrival so that parents will know that their son or daughter has arrived safely and will avoid calling or texting during the time that the teen is behind the wheel.

Regardless of who a teen is talking to, a person who is on their phone while driving is taking a major risk with his or her own life and the lives of others.