NEW YORK – Texting while driving has become a greater hazard than drinking and driving among teenagers who openly acknowledge sending and reading text messages while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle.
The number of teens who are being injured or killed as a result of texting while driving has skyrocketed as mobile-device technology has advanced. Researchers at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park estimate more than 3,000 annual teen deaths nationwide from texting and 300,000 injuries.
The practice now surpasses the number of teens who drink and drive — a hazard that has been on a dramatic decline in recent years, researchers say.
An estimated 2,700 young people die each year as a result of driving under the influence of alcohol and 282,000 are treated in emergency rooms for injuries suffered in motor-vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Andrew Adesman and a team of Cohen investigators found that, between September 2010 and December 2011, among 8,947 teenagers aged 15-18 nationwide, an estimated 49 percent of boys admitted to texting while driving compared with 45 percent of girls.
Texting also increased with age. Only 24 percent of 15-year-olds tapped out messages while driving, compared with 58 percent of 18-year-olds, the data showed.
“A person who is texting can be as impaired as a driver who is legally drunk,” said Adesman, noting that a texting driver is distracted from the movement of traffic and the function of the vehicle.
The new data contrast sharply with findings about drinking and driving among teens. The CDC reported last fall that alcohol use among teen drivers has decreased by 54 percent since 1991. Texting, however, has quickly grown in the last five to seven years, said Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen. “Fifty percent of high school students of driving age acknowledge texting while driving.”
“When we compared states where there are no laws [barring texting while operating a moving vehicle] and states where there are laws on the books, we found there was no difference in their responses,” Adesman said. “Clearly, the laws are not effective.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledged that distracted driving of all kinds is a growing hazard.
Agency officials describe texting as among the worst of driver distractions because conversing by text simultaneously involves manual, visual and mental distractions.
Observational surveys cited by the agency suggest that more than 100,000 drivers are texting at any given daylight moment, while more than 600,000 drivers are using handheld phones while operating a car.