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Teen Driving: Texting, Cell Phone Calls, and Other Distractions, Oh My!

By Minara El-Rahman on December 08, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

When it comes to teenagers behind the wheel of automobiles, perhaps it is time to be afraid, very afraid.  Indeed, recent research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project  presents some fairly sobering statistics about texting and driving. Pair that with some statistics about car crashes and car crash fatality numbers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it gets downright scary.

According to the research, 75% of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 own a cell phone, and 66% of them use their cell phones to send and receive text messages.  So far, so good.

Probably not surprisingly, older teenagers are more likely to have cell phones and to send and receive text messages, as 82% of Americans ages 16 and 17 have cell phones and 76% of them engage in text messaging.  OK, fair enough.

The research becomes troubling when it reveals that 34% of Americans ages 16 and 17 who text have performed text messaging while driving.  This comprises 26% of all Americans in this age group.

On top of this, 48% of Americans between 12 and 17 report that they have been in a car when the driver was engaged in text messaging.

And while 52% of Americans ages 16 and 17 who own cell phones say that they have talked on their cell phones while driving (43% of all Americans ages 16 and 17), 40% report that they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone that put the driver and passengers in danger.  This is not OK.

In this context, some states, like California, Oregon and Connecticut, have passed laws that ban text messaging or talking directly on a handheld phone while driving.  However, these laws alone may not be enough to guide behavior.  Indeed, the wife of the Governor of California reportedly was caught recently in violation of the new California law, by talking directly into her cell phone, instead of using an ear piece, while driving.  If the Governor's wife cannot get it right, what can we expect of teenagers by mere passage of a law?

Plainly, an educational campaign is warranted.  Teenagers and adults need to understand that driving while distracted by text messaging and cell phone calls is dangerous. 

For 2008 alone, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has indicated that there were 5,870 deaths and that about 515,000 people were injured by crashes reported by police to have involved at least one form of driver distraction.  The highest degree of distracted driving takes place in the age group below 20 years. 

And research released by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute this year suggests that text messaging on cell phones correlates to the greatest risk as to all cell phone tasks performed by drivers.

So, while it may seem axiomatic to some that text messaging and handheld cell phone use should not employed by people while they drive, with the prevalence of this behavior and the high associated risks, more must be done to convince teenagers (and adults) to put down their cell phones when they get behind the wheel.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP ( where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes.  His Web site is and he can be reached at  To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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