National Study Of Houston Teens Finds 26% Text Every Time They Drive

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A new study finds that 27 percent of Houston teenagers say they read a text or email every time they drive. About one in five Houston teens have extended conversations via text message while driving.

It's a national survey from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and Toyota that finds that cell phone use by teen drivers — and their parents — is pervasive.  

Sixty-seven percent of Houston teens report using a cell phone while driving, and 83 percent of parents do the same.

More than one in ten Houston teens — 12 percent — say they update or check Facebook or Twitter while driving.

Mayor Annise Parker has been supporting the "It Can Wait" campaign, and the Mayor's Youth Council recently sponsored an anti-texting video contest for high school students. Bellaire High School produced the winning video.  

Mayor Parker says there's a new reality.

"Teenagers are growing up with phones in their hands. And they are growing up texting — constantly. And the habits they have when they're not driving are going to carry over into their driving if we don't intervene in a hurry."

Mayor Parker says in its own way, texting while driving is more dangerous than drinking while driving.

"We all recognize that someone who drinks too much has certain impairments. And it has culturally become inappropriate to abet anyone driving while under the influence. And yet we have not drawn that same line in the sand for something equally dangerous for texting while driving."  

Dr. Tina Sayer with Toyota's Collaborative Safety Research Center says driver education begins the day a child's car seat is turned around to face front.

"We found very much that the parents who had the most distracted driving behaviors, the teens had the most distracted driving behaviors. So there's a direct relationship between the two."  

Dr. Sayer says the purpose of the texting survey is to raise awareness, but also to affect changes in behavior. And she says parents should follow up.

"Once your teenager goes and gets that license to drive independently, you need to keep checking back with them. You need to get back into the vehicle with them. Other research has shown that parental monitoring of driving decreases pretty significantly when those kids get that independent license." 

A source of frustration for Mayor Parker is the legislature's failure to pass an anti-texting law. Forty states and the District of Columbia already have such bans, but Representative Tom Craddick's most recent attempt was thwarted.

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Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...