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Who's Really Texting While Driving Most? Hint: It's Not Teens

04/18/2013 02:05 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2013
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Texting while driving has often been thought of as a "teenage problem," which is why any time you see a PSA on television telling people not to text and drive, it's always a teenager speaking to the camera.

However, a shocking new study released by USA Today showed that adults are actually more likely to text and drive than teenagers. Almost 50 percent of the adults in the study admitted to texting while driving, whereas only 43 percent of the teenagers in the study admitted to it (although, key word: admit to it).

In fact, it doesn't even seem to help matters even if there is a young child inside the car. I was shocked to read that even mothers with infants in the back of the car are texting and driving. A survey from Safe Kids Worldwide advocacy group shows that "although they're otherwise protective of their young children, the survey finds, 78 percent of mothers with children under age two acknowledge talking on the phone while driving with their babies; 26 percent say they text or check their e-mail."

These stats are really scary. There have been previous studies that show that texting while driving is six times as dangerous as driving drunk. And the fact that 39 states have recently banned texting while driving does not seem to be helping the problem at all. If we're living in a world where 50 percent of the drivers around you might be texting as they drive, that makes it a pretty big gamble every time you get on the road.

So, if people know it's dangerous, illegal, and bad -- then why are they still doing it? According to the study, people cited that they didn't want to lose productivity, or that it made them feel good to stay connected.

But the interesting stat was 43 percent of people said they check their phones because "it's a habit."

We don't know when we're going to get a new text message, e-mail, retweet, or a Facebook message. We are growing addicted to continually looking at our devices for these little bursts of communication. For many of us, when we hear that message pop up and surprise us, we find it hard to resist checking our phones, even if it means putting our own lives and the lives around us at jeopardy.

Sometimes, I'll get a text message while I'm driving and feel such a compulsion to answer it. I always have to consciously ask myself, "Is this message really so important that it could be worth my life?" "Is what I have to say to this person so important that it can't wait 15 minutes and is worth risking my son growing up without a mommy?" Of course, once I ask myself those questions, it all seems ridiculously dumb. Of course there's no message that can't wait.

There are several apps out right now that try to help solve this problem. DriveSafe.ly will read your incoming texts and emails to you aloud when you're in the car. Driveoff, iZUP, and Textecution will all detect that the phone is moving at a "driving speed" (faster than 10 mph) and automatically "lock" the texting function of your phone, as well as halt incoming phone calls. AT&T's DriveMode app or tXtBlocker will detect if your phone is moving faster than 25 mph and automatically respond to callers or texters with an auto-response message that you are driving and can't answer your phone right now. Other apps, such as Canary, will allow parents to monitor phone use from afar and look at a report that tells them if their child was using the phone while driving. There are even devices, such as the ORIGOsafe, that won't allow the car to start until you plug your phone into a console that disables the phone from doing anything except via Bluetooth.

If you don't want to download an app, the DIY version of this is just to put your phone in "airplane mode" while you're driving, so that new texts and emails can't even come in at all.

But as parents, if we are going through all this effort to install these apps on our children's phones, we need to make sure we don't turn around and engage in the same harmful behavior ourselves.

If we can't stop ourselves from texting and driving, then we need to just admit to ourselves that it's inevitable that people are going to text and drive - that we're just too darn addicted to our devices to stop -- and tech just needs to move faster in getting smart enough to protect us, despite ourselves. Many auto-makers are working on embedding Siri-like tools directly into the car dashboard, and of course, we've all heard about the testing of self-driving cars.

In the end, it all boils down to using our devices mindfully and consciously. Let's make sure that we are the ones owning our devices, rather than the other way around.

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