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Teen Texting and Driving: The Real Numbers

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Although April is coming to an end, and with it the end of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the time to evaluate our current efforts to change driving attitudes and habits should live on daily.

There are many advocates who travel from school to school educating teens on the dangers of distracted driving. Although these strategies have proven to be valuable in getting safe driving messages across, it has recently been discovered nothing may be more powerful in the fight than simply correcting the misperceptions about the numbers of teens who actually text and drive.

Social norms theory has been used to reduce risky teen behaviors in the context of drinking and tobacco use on college campuses. Essentially, social norms theory provides that the frequency with which a population engages in a risky behavior is generally over estimated and the frequency with which that population engages in the healthy behavior is underestimated.

The effect of these misperceptions can be that those who engage in the healthy behavior falsely believe that they are in the minority, while those who engage in the unhealthy behavior falsely believe that they are in the majority and that most people behave like they do.

Social norm proponents argue once the true facts are made known there will be pressure on those engaging in unhealthy behaviors to consider whether they should continue doing so, and those who have been engaging in healthy behaviors, now knowing they are in the majority, will be more likely to speak up and influence others to behave safer.

This shows how the social norms theory has the possibility to be used in the effort to reduce distracted driving in teens.

Here are the facts to correct that misperception:

Frequency of texting while driving by age group

16-18: 31 %
19-24: 42 %
25-29: 45%

Although 31% of 16-18 year-olds report that they text while driving, two-thirds of 16-18 year-olds do not.

By correcting this misperception we can help non-texting while driving teens to feel more confident in their choice and embolden them to speak up when other teens drive distracted.

Once the texting while driving teens learn that most of their peers do not behave the way they do, they may be more receptive to thinking about changing their behaviors.

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