Report: Texting is equally risky for older TX drivers, yet still legal

In a recent study, older drivers showed the most severe impairments while texting; unfortunately, these drivers can still legally text under Texas law.

Distracted driving has become one of the top threats to highway safety in San Antonio and other parts of Texas. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, one in five crashes in the state involve some form of driver distraction. Since distraction is difficult to detect when drivers don't admit to it, the true rate of distraction-related accidents may be higher.

Cell phone use is one activity that may especially raise the risk of distraction-related accidents. Texas lawmakers have addressed one significant source of distraction by partially banning texting. This activity is now illegal for drivers under the age of 18. Unfortunately, research suggests that these aren't the only drivers who can prove dangerous while texting. In fact, texting may pose an even more impairing distraction for older drivers.

Performance worsens with age

The study, which was published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, used driving simulations to test the performance of distracted drivers. Researchers selected participants between the ages of 18 and 59 and observed them reading or writing text messages while driving. The researchers distinguished between drivers who considered themselves skilled at texting and drivers who did not. The "skilled texters" reported the following habits:

  • They used smart phones.
  • They texted on a regular basis.
  • They felt comfortable texting one-handed.

Researchers found that, despite their supposed texting prowess, half of these people left their lanes while texting. Surprisingly, age appeared to predict each participant's likelihood of drifting into other lanes.

Out of all the drivers under the age of 24, about 25 percent drifted into other lanes. About 40 percent of drivers between ages 25 and 34 did the same. Among older drivers, the risk of lane departures was even worse. Eighty percent of drivers between ages 35 and 44 veered from their lanes. Virtually every driver over age 45 failed to stay in the appropriate lane while texting.

Potential explanations for findings

The study's researchers aren't sure why older drivers exhibited such poor performance while texting. Conventional wisdom holds that experienced drivers can manage distractions more effectively than other drivers. However, the researchers offered a few theories as to why texting may be more distracting for older drivers.

On a physical level, older drivers may need more time to look at texts while reading or composing them. This could cause these drivers to divert their eyes from the road more and, as a result, show greater impairments. Mentally, older drivers may be less prepared to handle the distraction that electronic devices create. This may happen in part because older drivers did not grow up using the technology.

Regardless of the underlying causes, the study results indicate that texting isn't only dangerous for young drivers. Laws and safety campaigns that exclusively target younger drivers may overlook the drivers who exhibit the most severe impairments while texting.

Accident risk in Texas

In San Antonio, lawmakers have already taken the initiative of outlawing any form of handheld cell phone use while driving. According to KSAT News, the ban applies to drivers of all ages. This measure may go a long way toward reducing distracted driving accidents and improving enforcement of the existing texting ban. However, until the entire state officially restricts cellphone use among adult drivers, the risk of accidents may remain high.

Anyone who has suffered harm because of a distracted driver's carelessness may benefit from seeking legal advice. An attorney may be able to help a victim understand the available legal remedies and pursue appropriate recourse.

Keywords: distracted, driving, texting, accident