Are cell phones more distracting and dangerous for adult drivers?

Research suggests that older drivers show the worst performance impairments while texting, and this finding might extend to other types of cell phone use.

Distracted drivers have become a common sight on the roads near Knoxville, and they are also a frequent cause of accidents. In 2014, distraction was identified as a factor in 21,021 car accidents in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. As of March 31, the distraction-related accidents reported in the state in 2015 were on pace to exceed 18,000 by the end of the year.

Using cell phones to text, email or browse the Internet has become one of the top sources of distraction for most drivers. Many people may believe that this risky habit is especially dangerous for inexperienced younger drivers. However, research now suggests that cell phone use may create a much more serious distraction for older drivers.

Poor driving performance

According to The Washington Post, this study focused on how well people could perform a driving simulation while texting. All of the 50 participants were between ages 18 and 59, and some described themselves as “highly skilled” at texting. These highly skilled texters used smart phones, texted frequently and felt comfortable texting one-handed. Unfortunately, the older adults in this group still showed significant performance impairments while texting and driving.

Researchers found that virtually every driver over the age of 45 veered out of his or her lane while texting. Similarly, 80 percent of the drivers between ages 35 and 44 swerved into other lanes. The younger drivers showed much better performance, although they still weren’t able to safely text while driving. About 40 percent of the drivers between ages 25 and 34 left their lanes, as did 25 percent of the drivers who were under the age of 25.

The researchers were surprised by these findings, since they had believed experience would help drivers handle distraction more effectively. However, they suggested a few potential explanations. Older drivers may need to spend more time looking at their phones when they perform tasks such as texting. Next to younger drivers who grew up with modern technology, older drivers also may be less adept at using technology while doing other things.

Accident outlook

This study focused primarily on how drivers performed while texting. Still, the findings may extend to most distractions that require drivers to look at and interact with a cell phone. Surveys show that these electronic distractions have become incredibly common. WGRZ News states that, in a recent survey, adults admitted to the following distracted driving behaviors:

  • Texting – 60 percent of drivers stated that they text while behind the wheel.
  • Sending emails – about one-third of respondents admitted to doing this while driving.
  • Browsing online – close to 30 percent of drivers confessed to engaging in this distraction.
  • Using Facebook – 27 percent of drivers reported visiting the social networking website or even directly posting on it while driving.

Many of these distractions may create the same cognitive and visual demands as texting. As a result, they may be especially dangerous for older drivers.

In Tennessee, texting is prohibited for all drivers. Unfortunately, general cell phone use is only banned for novice drivers and school bus drivers. Consequently, the risk of accidents involving adult drivers who are using cell phones may remain steep.

Recourse may be available

When a distracted driver of any age causes an accident, victims may have legal recourse. Proving that another driver was distracted or otherwise acting negligently at the time of an accident can be challenging, however. Accident victims may benefit from seeking the assistance of an attorney to document the accident and pursue any compensation that may be available.