It is no secret that texting while driving is a deadly distraction. To date, most prevention efforts have targeted the younger populations, especially teenagers.
But the findings of a new study suggest that middle-aged drivers, not teens, are more impaired when texting behind the wheel.
Researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit recently placed 50 drivers ages 18 to 59 in a road simulator to test their driving skills while texting on a virtual, two-lane road. The participants had varying degrees of texting skills, ranging from having to search for keys and type with one finger to being able to send messages single-handed.
Out of that group, 25 percent of drivers ages 18 to 24 drifted into the opposite lane while texting. Nearly all of the drivers in the oldest age group, ages 45 to 59, ended up with lane excursions under the same conditions, according to the study.
Among the other groups, 40 percent of those ages 25 to 34 and 80 percent of drivers between ages 35 and 44 made lane excursions.
Texting While Driving Prevention Should Be Targeted at Older Drivers, Too
The results of the study are surprising and concerning. Conventional wisdom has always suggested that driving skills improve with age. For the most part, that seems to be true. Older drivers are better able to handle unexpected situations and respond appropriately compared to their younger counterparts.
But the findings of this study suggest that the ability for older drivers to handle some distractions deteriorates with age – even though the researchers stopped short of giving a reason why. However, they suspect older people who text may spend more time looking at the phone or are less adept at multi-tasking.
Texting bans exist in 44 states, including New Jersey. However, so much focus has been placed on younger drivers as the primary offenders when it comes to texting behind the wheel that injury prevention efforts may be missing a key audience.
Older drivers may be more confident in their abilities to text while driving simply because there has not been much data out there that contradicts them.
That needs to change – and soon. Data shows a year-to-year increase in the number of middle-aged to older people purchasing smartphones.
According to a recent Pew Research Group report, smartphone ownership among seniors grew 38 percent over the course of one year alone. Another survey from State Farm Insurance saw smartphone ownership among 30 to 39 year-olds spike from 60 to 86 percent over a two-year period.
With that said, the results of this study should not be construed to mean that texting while driving is safer for any particular population. Texting while driving is a dangerous distraction with no age limit. The federal government, states, public health officials, automakers – and smartphone companies themselves – acknowledge that it is a serious threat to the safety of Americans today.
As personal injury and car accident attorneys, we are also witness to the tragedy that is brought upon families when a loved one is hurt or killed by a negligent driver. We add our voices to the many public service campaigns in urging you not to text and drive.