Teen Drivers Often Ignore Bans on Using Cellphones and Texting

Jun 13, 2008, 01:00 ET from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

    ARLINGTON, Va., June 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Teenage drivers'
 cellphone use edged higher in North Carolina after the state enacted a
 cellphone ban for young drivers, a new Institute study finds. This is the
 case even though young drivers and their parents said they strongly support
 the restrictions. Parents and teens alike believe the ban on hand-held and
 hands-free phone use isn't being enforced. Researchers concluded that North
 Carolina's law isn't reducing teen drivers' cellphone use.
     The two-part study coupled researchers' observations of teenage drivers
 with telephone surveys of teens and their parents in the first evaluation
 of a cellphone law for young drivers. North Carolina's ban for drivers
 younger than age 18 is part of the state's graduated licensing system.
     Just 1-2 months prior to the ban's Dec. 1, 2006, start, 11 percent of
 teen drivers were observed using cellphones as they left school in the
 afternoon. About 5 months after the ban took effect, almost 12 percent of
 teen drivers were observed using phones. Most drivers were using
 hand-helds. Nine percent were holding phones to their ears, while fewer
 than 1 percent were using hands-free devices. About 2 percent were observed
 dialing or texting. Cellphone use remained steady at about 13 percent at
 comparison sites in South Carolina, where teen driver cellphone use isn't
     "Most young drivers comply with graduated licensing restrictions such
 as limits on nighttime driving and passengers, even when enforcement is
 low," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research and
 an author of the study. "The hope in North Carolina was that the same would
 hold true for cellphone use, but this wasn't the case. Teen drivers'
 cellphone use actually increased a little. Parents play a big role in
 compliance with graduated licensing rules. Limiting phone use may be
 tougher for them since many want their teens to carry phones."
     Parents and teens support the cellphone ban: When surveyed after the
 cellphone restrictions took effect, teenage drivers were more likely than
 parents to say they knew about the ban. Only 39 percent of parents said
 they were aware of the cellphone law, compared with 64 percent of teen
 drivers. Support for the ban was greater among parents (95 percent) than
 teens (74 percent). Eighty-eight percent of parents said that they restrict
 their teenage drivers' cellphone use, though only 66 percent of teenagers
 reported such parental limits. About half of the teenagers surveyed after
 the law took effect admitted they had used their phones, if they had
 driven, on the day prior to the interview.
     Restrictions are rarely enforced: Most parents and teen drivers agreed
 that police officers weren't looking for cellphone violators. Seventy-one
 percent of teens and 60 percent of parents reported that enforcement was
 rare or nonexistent. Only 22 percent of teenagers and 13 percent of parents
 surveyed believed the law was being enforced fairly often or a lot.
     "Cellphone bans for teen drivers are difficult to enforce," McCartt
 notes. "Drivers with phones to their ears aren't hard to spot, but it's
 nearly impossible for police officers to see hands-free devices or
 correctly guess how old drivers are." Absent some better way to enforce
 them, "cellphone bans for teenage drivers aren't effective, based on what
 we saw in North Carolina," McCartt adds.
     In both North Carolina and South Carolina, observed cellphone use was
 significantly higher among girls than among boys and higher when teens
 drove alone in vehicles rather than with friends. For example, 13 percent
 of female drivers and 9 percent of males were observed using cellphones in
 North Carolina before the law. Cellphone use was 14 percent among solo
 drivers and 8 percent among teens with 1 passenger. More SUV drivers than
 car drivers were viewed using phones.
     Phone bans for young drivers are becoming commonplace as concerns mount
 about the contribution of distractions to teens' elevated crash risk.
 Seventeen states and the District of Columbia restrict both hand-held and
 hands-free phone use by young drivers. Six states and DC bar all drivers
 from using hand-helds. For a state-by-state list of cellphone laws, visit

SOURCE Insurance Institute for Highway Safety