WASHINGTON —Talking or texting on a cell phone while on the road is called distracted driving, but now a new study about teenagers behind the wheel shows it's their parents driving them to distraction.
Parents are calling their kids while the kids are driving: More than half of 408 participating teens reported being on the phone with mom or dad, according to new research presented Friday at the American Psychological Association's annual convention.
"Teens told us parents really expected to keep track of them, and they are expected to answer the phone if the parent calls. In some cases, the parent might continue to call until the teen answers," says Noelle LaVoie, a psychologist in Petaluma, Calif., whose private research firm conducts corporate and government studies.
The research included interviews or a survey with drivers from 31 states, ages 15-18, who have learner's permits or driver's licenses about why they talk or text even though studies show it's hazardous while driving.
A 2013 report by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration shows that distracted driving is a leading cause of crashes among drivers of all ages. For teens, it causes 11% of fatal crashes. Among those crashes, 21% involved cellphones, the report says.
"One of the things teens talked about is the fact that parents used their cell phone while driving," LaVoie says.
The research found that about 53% of teens who talked on the phone behind the wheel talked to a parent and 46% talked to a friend. For texting, messages were more likely to go to friends than parents, she says.
"It was just very surprising to see how directly parents are involved," LaVoie says. "What we do know for sure is if parents would not call their teens while they're (kids) driving, it would reduce teen distracted driving."
In another distracted driving study presented Thursday, researchers at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., asked college students about their driving distractions. Findings show 89% placed cell phone calls while driving and 79% texted while behind the wheel – either sending or receiving. Researchers did not ask with whom the drivers were in touch.
"Younger drivers seemed overconfident in their ability to multi-task," says co-author Keli Braitman, an assistant professor of psychology at the Missouri college.
She says other research has shown that younger drivers are the most likely of all drivers to text or talk on the phone while driving.
Braitman says they asked about the frequency of a host of distractions, from another passenger to programming music and eating and drinking.
"Young drivers rate texting as very distracting; yet they still report frequently texting while driving," she says.
The study did find an element of self-regulation; drivers were most likely to report texting and/or talking when stopped at an intersection and least likely in heavy, high-speed traffic. However, even at this least likely setting, 39% reported talking and 19% reported texting.