USC News

Menu Search

Fatal attraction: We can’t stop texting while driving

Millennials are especially likely to drive while distracted by technology, a new study from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and Bovitz finds

Texting while driving
A USC study found 18 percent of Americans cannot resist the urge to text or email while driving. (Photo/Paul Oka)

For distracted drivers, actions do indeed speak louder than words.

Although large percentages of Americans of all ages say that driving while sending or checking texts or emails is unsafe, unsettling numbers of drivers in all age ranges — especially millennials — are frequently or always engaged in distracted behavior behind the wheel, according to findings by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and Bovitz Inc.

“Large majorities recognize the dangers of texting while driving, but we found disturbing differences in actual behavior based on age,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future.

Overall, the survey found that a very large percentage of respondents — 87 percent — said that sending or checking online messages while driving is unsafe. Millennials (age 18-34) are somewhat less likely to believe that online communication while driving is unsafe – 81 percent.

Unsafe behavior

However, when asked about their actual behavior, many drivers admit that they still engage in driving behavior that has been proven unsafe and is illegal in many states:

  • 18 percent overall said they cannot resist the urge to send or check online messages while driving.
  • Eight percent said they text or email while driving always or often. Of this group, millennials are the biggest offenders, with 17 percent saying they always or often text or email while driving, compared to 4 percent of non-millennials.
  • Fourteen percent of millennials always or often check online messages or online notifications while driving, compared to only 4 percent of non-millennials.

When asked if sending or checking online messages was dangerous while driving, 95 percent of those age 55 or older agreed or strongly agreed. In contrast, 81 percent of millennials said sending or checking online messages was dangerous while driving.

“What’s unsettling is that the youngest group reported the lowest level of agreement that using online technology while driving is dangerous, even though they are most likely to have been recently taught about these issues in safety courses or driver education,” Cole said.

Age differential

Age also played a role in views about whether interactive devices such as mobile phones or tablets should be allowed in cars at all.

Overall, more than half of respondents – 53 percent – said that all interactive devices should be banned from cars in motion. However, the percentage of millennials who agree with a ban was only 45 percent, compared to 56 percent of non-millennials and 62 percent of respondents 55 or older.

Age also plays a role in identifying Americans who are never engaged in distracted driving. For example, 93 percent of drivers age 55 or older never use text or email while driving, compared to only 48 percent of millennials.

Survey background
Findings on the benefits and costs of technology were developed from the results of the Topical Survey, a supplement to the center’s annual research study that covers issues such as privacy, social media use, use of technology at school, stress and technology, and norms regarding the presence of technology in social settings. Respondents were surveyed in December 2014. The Topical Survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

The Center for the Digital Future
Since 2000, the Center for the Digital Future has examined the behavior and views of a national sample of Internet users and non-users in major annual surveys of the impact of the Internet on America. The center also created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes similar research with 37 international partners.

Bovitz Inc.
Bovitz Inc. is a design-driven research and strategy firm that helps organizations uncover opportunity and drive innovation.

More stories about: , ,

Fatal attraction: We can’t stop texting while driving

Top stories on USC News