Teen Girls More Likely To Use Phones While Driving
By Aaron Crowe
As the father of teenage daughters and an attorney who specializes in texting and driving accidents, Scott C. Gottlieb knows firsthand how much teen girls like to share everything they do and think with their friends.
“This can result in a constant barrage of sending and receiving messages, often from many teen girls simultaneously,” says Gottlieb, an injury law attorney in Binghamton, N.Y. “Obviously, the short moment it takes to send or read a text or post can be the moment that eyes are taken off the road, within which an accident can occur.”
His observation may be anecdotal, but it isn’t off base. Teen girls, it turns out, are twice as likely as boys to use a cellphone or other electronic device while driving, according to a report last year by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Researchers installed video cameras in the cars of teens, recording their actions while driving.
Phones a top distraction
Electronic devices were the top distraction, used in 7% of the video clips. Other distractions, such as grooming, loud conversations, adjusting controls, turning around, reaching for an object, and eating and drinking, added up to 15% usage.
Girls were twice as likely as boys to use an electronic device while driving, and they were also more likely than boys to adjust controls. They’re 50% more likely than boys to reach for objects in the car, and 25% more likely to eat or drink while driving.
Why do girls text more than boys while driving?
“They look important when they’re in their car and texting and driving. They look cool,” says Nancy Irwin, a psychologist and therapist in Los Angeles who has treated girls addicted to texting and driving.
Girls are more relationship-oriented than boys, so communication is more important to them than the task of driving, Irwin says. Using a phone while driving also shows that they’re connected to other people, even if they’re driving alone, she says.
“Most girls would rather be hanged to death than be seen alone,” Irwin says. “To have another link to another person just makes them look good.”
Teenagers, of course, aren’t the only drivers texting. A survey last year by CheapCarInsurance.net found that 24% of drivers feel they’ve come close to causing an accident while using their cellphone while driving, with women a little more likely than men to admit to coming close to causing an accident while using a cellphone in a car. A total of 28% admitted to texting, emailing or browsing the Internet while driving.
More texting while driving alone
Girls probably wouldn’t use their phones while driving if other people are in the car, Irwin says. The AAA study, however, found that in general, electronic device use and other distracted driving behaviors were most common when teens were carrying no passengers.
When there were passengers, loud conversation and horseplay were more than twice as likely when drivers took multiple teenage peers with them. Such distractions were less likely when a sibling passenger or parent or adult was in the car.
Teenage boys had their own driving distraction problems, according to the report. Boys were twice as likely as girls to turn around while driving, and more likely to talk to people outside the car.
Other distractions long before cellphones
Besides the fact that girls text and drive more than boys, the bigger issue is that even if teens don’t have a cellphone in the car with them while driving, they’ll continue taking high-risk actions and will find other distractions, says Carroll Lachnit, features editor at Edmonds.com, which has written about technology helping to prevent texting while driving.
“I’m not sure it matters,” Lachnit says of the research that girls text and drive more than boys.
“Kids were dying in car accidents long before cellphones,” she says.
Technology can help prevent using a cellphone while driving, but teens must learn to avoid other distractions such as eating, checking themselves in the mirror or searching for something in their bags, Lachnit says.
As CheapCarInsurance has reported before, the teenage brain isn’t fully formed enough for the complex decisions that come with driving. One solution may be to not allow people to get a driver’s license until they’re 21, says Irwin, the psychologist.
The frontal cortex is the decision-making center of the brain that is the last area to form, usually at about age 21-22 for girls and 25 for boys, she says. “This is why teens make poor decisions,” Irwin says. “They can’t help it; they are not yet equipped to do so yet.”
Stashing their cellphone in a purse, back seat or car trunk so it’s out of reach can at least help get one more distraction out of their way. There are also plenty of apps that can block usage while driving, even locking a phone when the car goes faster than 10 mp.
“The best advice a parent can give is to insist that their teen turn off and store any mobile device in an area of the vehicle that cannot be accessed while driving,” Gottlieb says.
One way Irwin has gotten through to teens to stop them from texting and driving is by reminding them what’s important in their lives. If they text while driving and crash their car, they can’t go to the high school prom if they’re dead. Death can be a strong motivator.
If that doesn’t work, Irwin tries to get teens to realize they can be seen as being cooler if they’re too busy to answer a text message immediately. Delaying a response until you’re out of your car can show someone you’re wise beyond your years.
Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.