Texting is a common practice across the adult generations, but it is among digital natives that the habit is likely to distract drivers, with sometimes lethal results.
Millennials, the cohort born between 1981 and 1996, are now old enough to be parents themselves. They are also, researchers have discovered, disproportionately represented among motor vehicle accident fatalities in which driver inattention was a causative factor.
In the US, at least, reading or sending text messages on a mobile phone while driving is one of the leading causes of road accident deaths and injury.
So prevalent is the problem that researchers have even worked out a quantative measure for it, known as the Distracted Driving Survey (DDS).
In 2016, researchers asked a sample of 1211 US adults to complete the exercise, and the results were dispiriting – or perhaps frightening.
“Nearly 60% of respondents reported a cell phone reading or writing activity within the prior 30 days, with reading texts (48%), writing texts (33%) and viewing maps (43%) most frequently reported,” the researchers, led by Richard Gliklich of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital, found.
In the latest research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, also in Massachusetts, recruited 435 new parents and asked them to take the DDS.
The results revealed that millennials were more likely than Generation X parents to read and respond to texts while driving.
However, use of phone-based media while driving was reported, at least to some degree, across all parental age ranges.
“We found that millennial-aged parents reported riskier distracted driving behaviour than older parents, although distraction was prevalent in both age groups,” says lead researcher Regan Bergmark
“We found that most parents, regardless of age, reported reading and writing texts while driving in the past month.”
The results also found that most parents believe they drive more carefully when their children are in the car. But while that may be the genuine intention, Bergmark suspects it may not actually be true.
“My hope is that we can find solutions that prevent deaths and injuries from motor vehicle crashes; when patients arrive in our emergency departments and operating rooms, it is often too late,” he says.
Andrew Masterson is a former editor of Cosmos.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.