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Drive Alive Richmond Teen Driving Study

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In recent years, many surveys have been conducted of teenage drivers in order to obtain a better understanding of their distracted driving behaviors and to develop strategies for addressing those behaviors.

However, most surveys have been done at a national level. This survey focused on teen drivers living in a specific community – the metropolitan area of Richmond, Virginia.

In this study, we conducted an online survey in March 2015 of high school students from within the Richmond community. A total of 238 teens participated in the study. However, 15 teens were excluded from our analysis of the survey results because they reported that they had not yet started driving.

Sara Richter, M.S., a Senior Statistician at Park Nicollet Institute, analyzed the survey data and made the following important findings:

  • Even though 94% of the teens said they knew texting while driving is dangerous, and 93% knew it was banned in Virginia, 58% still engaged in this driving behavior. This marked a higher percentage than indicated in other studies, which may be attributed to the smaller survey sample.
  • Among those teens who reported that they text and drive, a significant percentage (40%) do so in higher risk driving conditions. Those teens tend to believe they are better multi-taskers, unimpaired by their texting and need to respond to a text message right away.
  • Teens whose parents discuss texting while driving are less likely to text and drive than teens whose parents do not discuss this issue. Among teens whose parents have discussed the topic, 52 percent text and drive, compared to 64 percent who text and drive who have not had this discussion.
distracted driving infographic

These findings indicate that a main method of addressing the dangers of distracted driving is to direct strategies towards parents. The parents of teen drivers should be strongly encouraged to talk with their children about distracted driving behaviors, and they should be provided with resources that can help them to engage in this important discussion.


Distracted driving is dangerous, especially for new drivers. An annual report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed the number of people killed in car crashes involving a distracted driver has held steady in recent years, while the number of crashes with injuries involving distracted drivers has risen. (See chart).

Distracted Driving Accident Fatalities & Injuries
Year Injuries + / - Change Fatalities + / - Change
2011 387,000 --- --- 3,360 --- ---
2012 421,000 + 34,000 8.1% 3,328 - 32 1.0%
2013 424,000 + 3,000 0.7% 3,154 - 174 5.2%

These numbers indicate that approximately nine people die and 1,000 are injured on a daily basis in distracted driving accidents.

In the U.S., teenagers (ages 16-19) drive fewer miles than other age groups. However, their fatal crash rate per mile driven is nearly three times the rate for drivers ages 20 and older. The risk of a fatal crash is highest at ages 16-17, with the fatal crash rate per mile driven among drivers in this age group being almost double the rate for 18-19 year-olds. Among all drivers ages 15-19 involved in fatal crashes, 10% were reported as distracted at the time of their crash – the highest rate of distracted driving across all age groups.

While many forms of distraction exist, cell phone use, especially texting, can be the most dangerous. This is because texting while driving involves the three main types of distraction:

Visual Visual Taking your eyes off the road
Manual Manual Taking your hands off the wheel
Cognitive Cognitive Taking your mind off of driving

Many studies have been done on the effects of texting while driving. Research by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has shown that text messaging is associated with the highest risk of all sources of distraction. Some of the most impactful results are:

Texting while driving
  • Texting while driving increases a driver's crash risk by 23 times compared to drivers not using a phone.
  • Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an auto crash than driving when intoxicated.
  • Texting while driving takes your eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds – the longest of any source of distraction. Driving at 55 mph, this is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Even though teenagers are aware of the dangers, they still choose to text and drive, and many engage in other risky driving behaviors. When asked, 97% of teens in a 2012 survey by AT&T reported that texting and driving was dangerous, and 75% said it was very dangerous. Despite the known dangers, 43% of those same students reported texting and driving anyway.

In a similar survey, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 35% of those ages 16-18 reported reading a text message while driving, and 27% admitted to writing/sending a text. Moreover, approximately 8% of young drivers in that study believed it was acceptable to text and drive – the highest percent of any age category.

Additionally, a recent study by Olsen, et al., found that teens who text while driving are more likely to not always wear their seatbelt, ride with a driver who has been drinking alcohol and to drink alcohol and drive.

Many organizations have tried to spread awareness of the dangers of texting and driving and implement measures to reduce texting while driving. For instance, text messaging while driving is banned for all drivers in 45 states and the District of Columbia. It is also banned for young drivers in an additional three states.

Celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Jordin Sparks have spoken out about the dangers of texting and driving. Phone companies like AT&T have run graphical TV campaigns featuring family members of deceased distracted drivers.

In addition to these legal and marketing approaches, many cell phone and other technology companies have promoted technology to prevent texting and driving, using apps such AT&T's DriveMode, DriveScribe and Drive

With all of these resources available to prevent texting while driving and the problem continuing to grow, more information is needed to determine specific texting and driving habits of teenagers.



A 27-item questionnaire was administered to teens from high schools located in the Richmond, Virginia area via SurveyMonkey. Participants who completed the survey were entered into a drawing for a mini iPad.

Data Cleaning and Definitions

Prior to analysis, data were cleaned. When looking for consistency of answers, it was found that 20% of teens who reported never texting and driving actually did text and drive.

Although there were only 24 questions related to texting and driving, most had multiple response options where participants could select all that apply. As the options were sometimes related, new groups were created. Definitions of these new groups are below.

  • Driving Condition This indicates the types of driving conditions in which students were texting and driving. Lower risk driving conditions included parking lots and stop signs/lights. Higher risk driving conditions included all other driving locations (city streets, highways and interstates) and any amount of traffic.

    For example, if teens texted on highways and in parking lots, they were classified as higher risk.
  • When Teens Text Responses were grouped into morning only, afternoon and free time and anytime. Afternoon and free time was defined as texting after school to home, texting between work and home/school or texting while out with friends.
  • Who Teens Text Responses were grouped into anyone (parents and peers), peers only and parents only. Peers included friends, classmates and co-workers.
  • Text Vs. Multimedia Teens were grouped based on whether they only sent text messages while driving or sent texts and used other types of media (pictures and/or apps). There were not enough teens reporting use of apps or pictures to leave these categories separate.
  • Why Teens Text and Drive Teens who said they only text when it is safe were put into one group. All other reasons why they text were put into another group.
  • Number of Texting and Number Discussions The number of "yes" responses to discussion with parents, schools and driver's education instructors were counted.

A few of the questions within the survey could not be used in analysis. These questions had ambiguity in the question they were asking, overlapping or missing responses or directions that did not match the answer choices (i.e. the question indicated the respondent could "check all that apply," but the survey program allowed for only one answer to be selected). The specific questions and their concerns are outlined below.

"If you text while driving, how many times do you do it each day?"

It is unclear if "it" refers to the number of texts or the number of driving segments where at least one text was sent. Also, the survey did not provide a zero, "Not Applicable" or "I don't text and drive" response for the students who indicated they never text and drive.

"If you see another driver who is texting while driving, do you?"

The survey did not provide an "I don't see other drivers texting while driving" response option. This question would have been better placed after the question "Have you seen people in other cars who are texting while driving?"

"What do you think of ads that warn against texting while driving? (Check all that apply)"

The instructions for this question say to check all that apply. However, the survey was set up so participants could choose only one response. Also, the response options actually get at four different questions related to the ads – do you pay attention to them, did you change behavior because of them, did they give you enough information and what was your perception of them.



Descriptive summaries were generated using SAS v 9.3 (SAS Institute, Cary, N.C.). Where appli- cable, chi-square tests were used to identify statistical significance. P-values (p) are statistically significant if p <0.05 and are considered marginally significant/trending if p <0.10.


Description of Participants

A total of 238 participants responded to the survey. Of those, 15 (6.3%) indicated they had not started driving yet. They were excluded from the data analysis, which left 223 participants in the dataset for analysis. The survey set-up may be why many participants did not reveal their gender or driving experience.

Gender Number Percentage
Female 87 39%
Male 51 23%
Did not respond 85 38%
Driving Experience Number Percentage
Less than 1 year 75 34%
1-2 years 39 17%
2-3 years 9 4%
More than 3 years 15 7%
Did not respond 85 38%

Texting and Driving

Overall, 129 out of the 223 (58%) teens reported texting while driving. Teens who do not text and drive were also less likely to talk on their cell phones while driving than teens who do text and drive (30% vs. 83%, p <0.001).

When looking at the specific texting behaviors of those who do text and drive, most teens who text while driving were:

Doing so in lower risk driving conditions (60%).

Texting both parents and peers (57%).

Texting only in the afternoon and their free time (60%).

Sending only text messages (81%).

Using type-to-text (47%).

Texting while alone in the vehicle (74%).

Texting with friends (18%).

When they received a text message, 63% reported ignoring it.

There was no difference in the overall rate of texting between males and females. However, when looking at specific uses of the phone (texting only vs. texting, sending pictures and using apps), males were more likely to send only text messages compared to females (91% vs. 76% - not statistically significant). Thus, females were more likely to text, send pictures and use apps than males.

Education and Awareness of Dangers

In this study, 94% of teens knew texting while driving is dangerous, and 93% knew there was a text ban for all drivers in Virginia. However, 58% still reported texting while driving. This is a higher percentage of teens than in previous studies (43% AT&T; 45% Olsen, et al.). This increase could be due to the sample (the teens came from only one area in Virginia vs. national surveys), or it could be due to texting while driving simply happening more often than previously indicated.

The teens who do not text and drive reported having more discussions with parents, teachers and driver's education instructors about the dangers of texting and driving than the teens who do text and drive (p=0.03). In fact, 41% of teens who do text and drive said no one discussed texting and driving with them compared to 23% of teens who do not text and drive.

Parental Influence

Approximately 50% of parents discussed the dangers of texting and driving with their kids. Interestingly, teens whose parents did discuss texting and driving were less likely to text and drive than teens whose parents did not discuss it with them (52% vs. 64% text and drive, p = 0.07).

Even though some teens still chose to text and drive, those with a parental discussion more often only texted (88%) than their peers who did not have a parental discussion (70%, p = 0.04). So, those without a discussion more often chose to send pictures or use apps.

Based on the survey data, parental texting while driving did not relate to whether the teens texted and drove. In many other studies, teens are more likely to text and drive if their parents do as well. Additionally, parental texting while driving also did not relate to the specific texting behaviors of the teens who do text and drive.

Approximately 21% of teens reported texting only their parents. The other 79% reported texting peers only (friends, classmates and/or co-workers) or both peers and parents.

The teens who reported texting only their parents:

  • Have slightly less driving experience (57% less than one year) than those who text everyone (66% with one or more years of experience – not statistically significant).
  • Are more likely to text in lower risk conditions (80% versus 53% of those who text everyone, p = 0.01).

There were too few teens (n=9) who reported texting while their parents were in the car to report on their behaviors.

Driving Conditions

About 40% of the teens who texted and drove said they did so in higher risk driving conditions. The students who text in higher risk situations tend to use their phones more (send pictures, use apps, etc.) while those in lower risk situations tend to text only (31% compared to 13% of lower risk texting teens who use apps/pics; p=0.04).

The students who text in lower risk conditions only do so because they believe it is safe more often that those who text in higher risk conditions (72% vs. 23%; p <0.01). That is, 77% of students who said they text in higher risk conditions:

  • Believe they are better multi-taskers
  • Do not believe texting impairs their driving
  • Believe they must respond right away
    (compared to 28% of those who text in lower risk conditions).

Those who text in lower risk conditions are more likely to do so while they are alone in the car, while those who text in higher risk conditions tend to do it regardless of who is in the car with them (p=0.08).

Driving Experience

The teen drivers who text while driving are more likely to do so as they become more experienced drivers. That is, only 37% of teens with less than one year of driving experience texted while driving, compared to 71% of those with more than one year of driving experience (p = 0.001).

The specific texting behaviors (i.e. driving conditions, when they text, who they text, who is with them in the car when they text, etc.) were similar between drivers with less than one year of driving experience and those with one or more years of driving experience.


The results of this study underscore the important role that parents play in raising teens' awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. By having a discussion with their teen driver about topics such as texting while driving, parents can strongly influence whether their child engages in such risky behavior.

The following are resources that may help parents to engage in this needed conversation:

  • Drive Smart Virginia A non-profit organization that offers a wealth of helpful material through this site, which covers distracted driving and many other safety topics.
  • Partners for Safe Teen Driving This site is the product of a community health initiative that seeks to prevent teen auto accidents in Virginia by working with schools and local organizations. It includes a link to the 45-Hour Parent/Teen Driving Guide.
  • The federal government's official distracted driving website. It provides parents with many statistics, study links, videos and other materials.
  • Stop The Texts. Stop The Wrecks. This National Highway Traffic Safety Administration site is targeted at teens and focuses solely on the issue of texting while driving.
  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety This YouTube channel features a series of videos that were used in a recent AAA study. They show driver distraction in teen crashes (while certainly eye-opening, none of the videos are graphic). You should also check out AAA's Teen Driving site.
  • This NHTSA website features a "Parents Central" section with guidance on how to talk with teens about safe driving techniques.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The site offers a section that contains "simple, effective ways to get involved with your teen's driving."
  • Colonial Driving School A Virginia driving school that offers driver improvement clinics (offered in Spanish and English), driver's education and private lessons in driving with a strong emphasis on teaching their students proper technique and dangers of texting while driving.


  1. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2013. Distracted driving 2011. Report no. DOT HS 811 737. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2014. Distracted driving 2012. Report no. DOT HS 812 012. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2015. Distracted driving 2013. Report no. DOT HS 812 132. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  4. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 2015. 2015 American Driving Survey. Washington, DC. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  5. Highway Loss Data Institute. 2013. Fatality Facts: Teenagers. Washington, DC: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  6. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. October 10, 2014. Distracted Driving. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  7. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. 2009. Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  8. Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. 2014. April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  9. AT&T. 2012. Texting While Driving. Accessed April 21, 2014.
  10. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. 2015. 2014 traffic safety culture index. Washington, DC. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  11. Olsen EO, Shults RA, Eaton DK. Texting while driving and other risky motor vehicle behaviors among US high school students. Pediatrics. 2013;131(6):e1708-e1715. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  12. Highway Loss Data Institute. 2015. State Laws: Cellphones and Texting. Washington, DC: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Accessed April 16, 2015.
  13. Virginia Automobile Crashes Statistics. Marks & Harrison. 2016.