60 Percent of Teens Text While Driving

Seven states and the District of Columbia have banned "driving while texting," or DWT. But that doesn't stop people from engaging in the dangerous behavior.

A new survey finds 26 percent of mobile phone users admit to DWT. Nearly 60 percent of respondents ages 16 to 19 do it. Drivers in Tennessee are the worst DWT offenders (42 percent). Arizona had the lowest number (18.8 percent).

Ironically, about 83 percent of the respondents think DWT should be banned.

A big caveat: The online survey, of 4,816 people, was conducted by the independent research organization Toluna for Vlingo, a company that sells speech recognition setups that allow mobile phone users to — you guessed it — avoid texting.

That caveat in mind, the survey results probably not far from the truth based on personal observation out on the roads, and they are disturbing.

Texting while driving has been shown in virtual simulators to be deadly. People doing it change speeds rapidly for no reason, and they weave in and out of lanes. The National Safety Council in January called on state and federal lawmakers to ban the use of cell phones and text-messaging devices while driving.

The 2-ton death machines Americans are so fond of kill about 40,000 people per year. No official records are kept to discern how many of those accidents involved texting, but safety officials agree it’s a growing concern.

Vlingo may have an answer to the texting problem, but it's not the whole solution. Another study found that even hand-free mobile phone use is dangerously distracting.

Several studies have documented that any distracting activity — talking on cell phones, texting, searching for music files — increases the risk of accidents. Driving while talking on a cell phone makes people drive as poorly as drunks, one study showed.

(In a non-scientific LiveScience poll, 68 percent of 1,155 respondents — as of this writing — agreed that lawmakers ban use of cell phones while driving.)

The overall point is that drivers really ought to stick to driving.

While nobody has studied DWEAB (driving while eating a burger) or DWPOM (driving while putting on makeup) you can bet these are not safe, either. They just haven't been studied yet.

Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.