MO texting ban may overlook most dangerous group of distracted drivers

Research suggests that texting bans targeting younger drivers are too narrow, since older drivers may actually show worse impairments while texting.

Under Missouri law, people under the age of 21 are banned from texting while driving. Many Kansas City residents may believe this law targets the people who are most likely to experience accidents involving driver inattention. Surprisingly, though, a recent study suggests that this is not the case. Texting may actually be an even more dangerous distraction for people who are older and generally viewed as safer drivers.

Dangerous at any age

According to The Washington Post, during the study, researchers from Wayne State University had 50 participants perform a driving simulation. The participants' ages ranged from 18 to 59. Researchers divided the participants into people who texted infrequently and people who considered themselves skilled at texting. The people in the skilled group all owned smartphones and were able to text one-handed.

During the driving simulation, researchers sent simple text questions for the participants to respond to. The researchers then observed how participants drove while texting replies. The researchers found that half of the skilled texters veered out of their lanes while texting. A participant's likelihood of leaving his or her lane depended largely on age, as the following figures illustrate:

  • Virtually every driver between ages 45 and 59 left his or her lane at least once.
  • A substantial 80 percent of drivers between ages 35 and 44 did the same.
  • Just 40 percent of drivers between ages 25 and 34 veered from their lanes.
  • A mere 25 percent of drivers between ages 18 and 24 drifted out of their lanes.

In other words, the risk of drivers showing poor performance while texting increased significantly with age. Compared to the youngest participants, the oldest participants in the study were four times more likely to leave their lanes while texting.

Reasons for age-related risk

These findings are surprising, since experienced drivers are typically considered more competent and capable of handling distractions. Researchers theorize that older drivers may spend more time looking at their phones, resulting in less attention on the road. Multitasking with electronic devices may also come more naturally to younger drivers, who have spent more of their lives using these devices.

The study findings don't indicate that texting while driving is safe for younger drivers. However, the results do suggest that the issue of texting among older drivers deserves more attention. In Missouri, where texting is only banned for younger drivers, the risk of texting-related single-car and multicar collisions may remain high.

Holding distracted drivers responsible

Accidents involving texting and other distractions may harm many people in Missouri this year. The Missouri Department of Transportation does not offer state statistics on accidents specifically involving texting. However, the same source reports that distracted driving plays a role in 80 percent of all crashes.

The victims of these distraction-related accidents may have recourse, even if state law doesn't ban every form of driver distraction. Distracted driving at any age may be considered a negligent behavior if it results in injury to another person. People who have been hurt in such accidents should consider meeting with an attorney to review their rights and legal options.

Keywords: texting, distracted, driving, accident