Roadside distraction: Even older drivers are learning bad habits

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Who said you can’t teach older drivers new tricks? According to State Farm insurance’s annual distracted driving survey, drivers over 30 now rival younger drivers when it comes to texting and accessing the Internet while navigating traffic.

A dramatic increase in smartphone ownership by older drivers has led to an explosion in reckless behavior in a group that was once assumed to know better, according to the insurance giant’s survey of nearly 1,000 drivers.

Drivers between 30 and 39 who own smartphones jumped from 60 to 86 percent in the last two years, the same percentage for 18-to-29-year-olds. Smartphone ownership grew from 47 percent to 82 percent among 40-to-49-year-olds and from 44 percent to 66 percent for 50-to-64-year-olds.

The portion of all drivers who admit that they keep one eye on the Internet and one on the road doubled from 13 percent in 2009 to 24 percent this year.

Pennsylvania is among 41 states that have banned texting while driving, although drivers are still permitted to use handheld phones. But survey respondents said laws prohibiting texting and accessing the Internet while operating a car aren’t taken seriously.

Given this threat, tougher laws and tougher law enforcement would be a good place to start. Appealing to drivers’ sense of responsibility isn’t enough when Internet access is valued more than road safety. Hitting texting drivers with fines would send a message — and have the virtue of saving lives, too.

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