Teen texting is OTT, even at wheel
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Teenage text messaging is so common that mocking the phenomenon has become a national pastime.
Some of the laughs come at the expense of un-hip parents who -- if they aren't going ballistic after opening OTT (text-speak for over-the-top) cell phone bills -- are making desperate attempts to keep tabs on their speedy-thumbed adolescents and the shortened texting jargon: "WAYD?" (what are you doing?) or "WARY?" (where are you now?)
But after text messaging recently emerged as the possible cause for the crash that killed five high school cheerleaders in western New York last month, the trend is coming under renewed scrutiny.
A whopping 78 percent of young adults age 18 to 26, also known as "Gen Yers," use their cell phones to send and receive text messages, according to a Forrester Research study. For younger teens, or "millenials," the text message is their primary means of communication -- using their cell phones to text more than they do to make phone calls, according to a report by the Pew Internet & American Life project.
Another report released last week, just days before investigators announced that 17-year-old Bailey Goodman's cell phone was in use seconds before her SUV collided head-on with a tractor trailer, found that 61 percent of teens admit to risky driving habits, including text messaging behind the wheel.
The study, sponsored by AAA and Seventeen Magazine, queried more than 1,000 16- and 17-year-olds in April and found that of the 61 percent who take risks while driving, 46 percent said they text message. Fifty-one percent admitted to talking on cell phones while driving while 58 percent drive with friends in the car. All are cause for alarm, according to the AAA, since driver distraction is a factor in 25 to 50 percent of all crashes.
"Teens love to text, talk on their cell phones and hang out with their friends," said Seventeen Editor-in-Chief Ann Shoket in a statement. "But when you mix those social activities with young, inexperienced drivers, the results are dangerous and in many cases fatal."
Many states, including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have banned the use of a cell phone while driving unless the driver is using a "hands-free" device, such as a wireless ear-piece and microphone. Other states have restrictions on cell phone use for inexperienced drivers.
Only one state, Washington, has banned text messaging while driving, according to the Governors' Highway Safety Association, although others are considering similar measures.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that will ban cell phone use while driving. except with a hands-free device. A hearing is planned for Philadelphia later this month.
Having recently joined the ranks of mothers of teenage drivers, Squirrel Hill's Barbara Colker worries that her incessantly texting 16-year-old daughter, Julianna Schroeger, understands the perils of drinking and driving, but not of texting while driving.
"Text messaging is second nature for teenagers," Ms. Colker said, "It's part of [Julianna's] daily repertoire, drinking is not."
Recalling the practice drive the pair took before her daughter earned her drivers' license last month, Ms. Colker said Julianna's cell phone was buzzing with the arrival of new text messages. At a stop light, her daughter reached for her phone to read them.
Ms. Colker said she took possession of the cell phone for the remainder of the drive and since then has "drilled into" Julianna the dangers of using the cell phone while driving.
"I have no idea whether she's adhering to the rule or not," Ms. Colker added.
With 79 million cell phone users texting regularly, according to the Wireless Industry Association, it's not only teens with busy thumbs.
Peters resident David Synowiec, a 26-year-old who works with roughly 70 text-messaging students in his role as the director of the local chapter of an international Christian youth group, admits to texting while driving.
"For me a person -- who hates to text message -- the fact that I've responded to text while driving. I would assume its fairly common thing," he said.
The AAA/Seventeen Magazine study advised parents to set an example for good driving skills by avoiding the use of all electronic devices while driving.
Ms. Colker doesn't follow that advice; she uses a hands-free cell phone device to talk on the phone while behind the wheel.
"It's a point of contention between me and my daughter," she said. "I tell her that I've been driving for 32 more years than she has."
First Published July 16, 2007 11:44 pm