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Study: Texting may pose a more severe distraction for older drivers

Texting and driving remains a serious threat to California drivers, even though state law bans the behavior. Since this form of distraction is more prominent among younger people, many San Francisco residents may think inexperienced distracted drivers are the most dangerous drivers on the roadways. However, new research suggests that texting while driving may actually create more of a distraction for older people, making the behavior even more dangerous for these drivers.

Performance differences

During the study, which will be published in Accident Analysis and Prevention in January, researchers from Wayne State University had 50 participants perform a driving simulation while receiving and responding to simple texts. According to The Washington Post, the participants were all between ages 18 and 59, and researchers divided them into two groups: those who texted regularly and considered themselves proficient at texting, and those who texted less frequently.

The researchers found that about half of the participants who texted regularly could not stay in their lanes while answering texts. For participants who texted more sporadically, researchers reported the following findings:

Virtually all of the drivers who were over 45 years old failed to stay in their lanes.
A significant 80 percent of drivers between ages 35 and 44 also veered into other lanes.
Forty percent of drivers between ages 25 and 35 left their lanes.
Just 25 percent of drivers between ages 18 and 24 struggled to stay in their lanes.
In this particular study, experience did not seem to help mature drivers effectively handle the distraction that texting creates. If anything, the mature drivers appeared more susceptible to the distraction.

Why age matters

Early research suggests that part of this performance difference may occur because older drivers spend more time looking at their phones, rather than taking quick glances when reading and writing texts. It’s also possible that older drivers are simply not as comfortable with cellphones and texting as younger drivers who started using the technology at an earlier age.

Regardless of the underlying reason, these findings suggest that public awareness campaigns and research about texting and driving shouldn’t exclusively focus on younger drivers. While younger drivers exhibit higher rates of texting while driving and associated crashes, the behavior may be just as risky for older drivers.

Distraction in California

Distracted drivers remain a significant issue in California. In 2013, the state’s Office of Traffic Safety found that a shocking 70 percent of drivers surveyed reported experiencing accidents or near-accidents caused by drivers who were talking or texting. Sadly, many drivers may personally persist in texting or talking despite knowing it is risky. The same survey found that 45 percent of drivers who admitted to talking on cellphones also confessed to making at least one mistake while doing so.

If these statistics are any indicator, distracted driving accidents involving drivers of all ages may affect many Californians this year. Anyone who has been hurt because of a distracted driver’s carelessness may benefit from meeting with an attorney to discuss pursuing compensation.