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Texting Worse Than Driving Drunk; College Students Chief Offenders

Aired 4/25/12 on KPBS News.

A USCD study reveals that San Diego college students who are overly confident in their multitasking skills are the most likely to drive distracted.

Dr. Linda Hill
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Above: Dr. Linda Hill

Capt. Rich Stewart
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Above: Capt. Rich Stewart

Fifty percent of college students admitted to sending text messages while driving on the freeway, according to a study by released today by Dr. Linda Hill at UCSD Medical Center. The study was designed as an internet survey to determine the distracted driving habits of college students in San Diego County.

Distracted driving (DD) is defined as any activity that takes the driver’s attention off the road, such as texting, talking on the phone, eating, putting on makeup, reading or looking at GPS devices.

The survey revealed that respondents who were most confident in their ability to multitask were also more likely to drive distracted. For instance, the survey said that 46 percent of students felt they were capable of talking on a cell while driving, but felt only 8.5 percent of their peers were.

“Texting while driving increases the crash rate 16 to 32 times, four times that of driving under the influence,” Hill said. “Imagine driving full speed down the freeway and taking your eyes off the road for 3-5 seconds, you can drive the length of a football field in that time and it’s as if you’re driving with your eyes shut.”

Capt. Rich Stewart of the California Highway Patrol agreed. “Distracted driving is the Number One cause of teen accidents and fatalities,” he said. “Often when our officers regard a vehicle weaving, driving too fast or slowing down, we think it’s possibly a driver under the influence. Quite often it’s someone who’s texting.”

The survey asked the students to identify scenarios that would influence their behavior. The students said if insurance companies wouldn’t cover crashes related to distracted driving, if a citation resulted in a point on their driving record, or if a first time fine was $350, it might deter them from picking up the phone. The current fine is $159.

Hill said distracted driving is a public health and safety issue.

“Distracted driving is dangerous in any form, and the lives of both drivers and their potential crash victims are at stake,” she said. “We can’t wait another generation to stop DD.”

The anonymous internet study captured information from 5,000 students from nine colleges. The average age was 21, two thirds were female and the majority were undergraduates.

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