Public health officials have advertised the dangers of drinking and driving for years. But texting while driving can be just as dangerous, and not everyone is getting the message.
A recent study showed that close to half of teens reported having text messaged or emailed while driving at least once in the past month.
The researchers found these teens were more likely to engage in other risky behaviors too, such as unprotected sex or drinking and driving.
The study, led by Alexandra Bailin, a research assistant at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, looked at the prevalence and risk factors among teens for texting while driving.
The researchers used data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the survey, 7,833 participating teens were above the legal age for a driver's license and answered the question, "During the past 30 days, on how many days did you text or e-mail while driving a car or other vehicle?"
An overall 42.7 percent of the teens (3,340 participants) reported that they had texted or emailed while driving at least once in the past month.
Then the researchers looked at the teens' answers to other questions in the survey to identify whether there were common risk factors among those who admitted to texting while driving.
The researchers found four different behaviors that were more common among teens who reported texting while driving.
Those behaviors included the number of days in the past month that the teen reported driving after having drunk alcohol, the number of days they had had at least one drink in the past month, how often they had used indoor tanning beds in the past year and whether they had had sex without a condom the last time they had intercourse.
Overall, boys were more likely than girls to report texting while driving: 45.7 percent of the males and 39.7 percent of the females reported texting while driving at least once in the past month.
Interestingly, more older teens than younger teens also reported texting while driving.
Among those aged 18 and older, 51.9 percent said they had texted while driving in the past month, compared to 45.8 percent of 17-year-olds, 33.3 percent of 16-year-olds and 26.4 percent of 15-year-olds.
The researchers also looked at which teens lived in states that had laws against texting while driving and found a small correlation there.
In states with a law against texting while driving, 39.3 percent of the teens admitted doing so anyway, compared to 43.5 percent of teens living in states without such laws.
"Given the relationships between texting while driving and other high-risk behaviors, educational interventions should especially target those who are frequently consuming alcohol, drinking and driving, using indoor tanning devices and having unprotected sex," the researchers wrote in their conclusion.
"As current state legislation prohibiting texting while driving is minimally effective, incurring harsher penalties or developing restrictive phone applications may be more effective in reducing texting while driving," they wrote.
In a prepared statement, senior author Andrew Adesman, MD, elaborated on the team's findings.
"Although texting while driving was slightly less common in states that prohibit it, the reality is that millions of teens text while driving," Dr. Adesman said. "Regrettably, our analysis suggests that state laws do not significantly reduce teen texting while driving."
He suggested that technology itself may offer opportunities to reduce this risky behavior.
"Technological solutions will likely need to be developed to significantly reduce the frequency of texting while driving," Dr. Adesman said. "When it comes to teen texting while driving, phones will have to get smarter if they are to protect teens (and others) from doing dumb things."
These findings are preliminary. The study was presented at a conference and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The research was presented May 4 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, DC. Information regarding funding and disclosures were unavailable.