GREENFIELD — When it comes to the habit of texting behind the wheel, cellphone-toting teens are not changing their ways, a new study suggests.
Despite the widespread attention to the dangers of distracted driving and the risky practice of cellphone use while driving, a State Farm study released this week shows a majority of teens – about 57 percent – still admit to texting while on the road.
That’s virtually unchanged from a similar State Farm survey conducted in 2010.
The data demonstrate a disappointing reality, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert Campbell.
“I would hope kids would take it more serious and understand the dangers involved in it,” said Campbell, who leads the department’s road patrol division.
Shortly after a law banning texting while driving went into effect last summer, Campbell wrote a ticket to a motorist who admitted to having a text conversation behind the wheel.
Campbell was working Operation Pullover, a national program that funds extra patrols to target impaired drivers, when he noticed a vehicle weaving. He assumed the driver had been drinking.
The driver admitted texting was responsible for his inattention to the road.
“Had his phone in his hand when I walked up there,” Campbell said.
The most recent State Farm study surveyed more than 650 teens from 14 to 17 years old. Some officials guess the true number of teens who text is even higher than those reported in the State Farm study.
“I think it goes right along with the prevalence of cell phones in general,” Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said. “Who does not have a cellphone anymore? We’ve been out to places where people couldn’t buy food, but they have their cellphones.”
The State Farm study also surveyed teens to determine how dangerous they consider texting behind the wheel.
Teens were asked to compare the danger of texting to other well-publicized risky behaviors such as drinking and driving.
Overall, teens saw themselves as more likely to get into an accident under the influence of alcohol than when using their phones, the study showed.
Jester argues texting, while a common habit among teens and adults, is potentially more dangerous than other distractions.
“I think, nowadays, texting and cellphones in general are much more distracting than changing the radio used to be,” he cited by way of example. “Change the radio station, find a song you like, couple minutes, it’s staying there.”
The quick, back-and-forth nature of text conversations seems to compel drivers of all ages to look away from the road, Campbell said.
“I think that people get wrapped up in their lives, and nowadays, with the social media and texting, it’s all immediate,” he said. “People expect a response right away.”
While texting while driving is against the law for any age group, Jester said he’s not aware of any Greenfield police officers who have successfully cited a texter.
Because dialing a phone – even updating a Facebook status or performing a Google search – is still legal, enforcement of the new law is tough, Campbell agreed.
“You can’t look at their phone to see if they’re texting,” Campbell said.