A Texas Transportation Institute study has added to the mounting evidence that cell phone use while driving, especially at night, can be fatal. Details of the study — that examined crash data over a 10-year period — were reported across the nation when it was released May 6.
The Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) study examined the effects of lighting conditions on crashes from 1999 to 2008 in all 50 states, along with the presence of alcohol as a factor in those crashes. The findings suggest something other than alcohol is increasing the nighttime fatal crash numbers for teen drivers. The most likely reason, researchers say, is the use of cell phones.
The study was unveiled at a TDS news conference in Austin. “Being on a cell phone behind the wheel impairs our driving ability on three different and essential levels: cognitive, visual, and manual,” TDS Director Russell Henk said in announcing the results of the study. “When you add the nighttime danger, you create the perfect storm. And, that storm is much more severe for teenage drivers, largely because of their lack of driving experience.”
In addition to Henk, other speakers at the news conference included high school students involved with TDS and State Rep. Larry Phillips, the Vice Chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
“Given the challenge we face, we have to change more than laws,” Rep. Phillips said at the news conference. “We have to change the way we think about driving. That’s what these young leaders are doing – using peer influence to create a driving safety culture among young people. And if they can change the way that young people drive, then it’s my hope that the rest of us can do the same.”
The study resulted in more than 300 media reports, including stories by the Associated Press, United Press International, the Washington Post and Time Magazine.
“Nighttime driving is the most common risk that teen drivers face, but is the least recognized risk,” TDS Public Affairs Director Bernie Fette says. “We did this analysis and press conference in part to raise awareness of the danger, and with the report making news in more than 30 states, we believe we’ve made a good start.”