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State reports increase in distracted driving by younger drivers

By From page A1 | May 11, 2012

A report released Wednesday by the state Office of Traffic Safety shows an increase in the number of teens and college students using cell phones while driving.

Overall, the study found 10.8 percent of all drivers using cell phones on the road, up from 7.3 percent in 2011. But among those ages 16 to 25, the percentage doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent.

“These results are disturbing, but not entirely unforeseen,” said OTS director Christopher J. Murphy. “Now that smart phones are becoming the majority, people are using them more often and in many more ways. That may be helpful in a lot of places, but definitely not behind the wheel.”

For the second year in a row, OTS conducted the survey of cell phone use by positioning observers at 130 intersections in 17 counties to observe whether drivers had a phone to their ear, were wearing a Bluetooth or headset device, were manipulating a hand-held device or were talking while holding a phone in their hand but not to their ear.

The OTS reports the findings likely represent the low end of actual cell phone usage as the observations were limited to intersections during daylight hours and it wasn’t always possible to tell if someone was using a phone, particularly if they were using it for texting or apps.

The report also suggests the increase in cell phone use by drivers could be the result of more young people, who tend to text more, becoming drivers.

A separate study conducted by researchers at UC San Diego looked specifically at college and university students, the OTS reported. That study, of 5,000 students between the ages of 18 and 29, found 79 percent reported using a cell phone for talking or texting while driving and just 25 percent reported using hands-free devices with any frequency.

Half said they send texts while driving on freeways; 60 percent in stop-and-go traffic or on city streets; and 87 percent at traffic lights. Texting is, of course, illegal, whether the driver is moving or at a stop.

Nearly half of respondents said they were capable or very capable of talking on a cell phone while driving.

“What this new information tells us is that too many are still convinced that a crash will never happen to them,” Murphy said. “We have to turn that thinking around or we will see tragic increases in fatal and injury crashes.”

Full results of the OTS study can be found at http://www.ots.ca.gov. The UC San Diego study can be found at http://treds.ucsd.edu.

Anne Ternus-Bellamy

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