It’s no secret that teens like to text. In fact, most prefer text messaging over in-person or telephone-enabled interpersonal contact. It’s also no secret that teens continue to text while driving, one of many “driving while distracted” classifications and a growing risk now mitigated by property/casualty insurers.

A recent survey of 652 U.S. teens (ages 14-17 and including 280 who have a driver's license or permit and 362 who plan to get a driver's license) conducted by Harris Interactive for State Farm found that 57 percent of U.S. teens with a driver’s license admit to texting while driving.

But the survey offers a chilling addendum to this risk, noting that more teens believe they could get into an accident when drinking and driving versus texting and driving. In the survey, 63 percent strongly agreed that regular texting while driving would lead to an accident. This compares with 83 percent who strongly agree they will get into an accident if they regularly drink and drive.

“Despite academic research indicating the consequences of texting while driving can be as severe as drunk driving, some teens still don't see it that way,” State Farm announced as it released the results of the survey.

Texting while driving laws vary from state to state, and statistics related to teen crashes as a result of texting while driving are still being collected and disseminated. However, it’s illegal in every state in the U.S. and the District of Columbia for persons under the age of 21 to purchase and publicly possess alcoholic beverages. All states also have passed zero tolerance laws, which typically prohibit driving with a BAC of 0.02 percent or higher for anyone under age 21.

And although teen drivers are less likely than adults to drink and drive, notes State Farm, their crash risk is substantially higher when they do. A teen that has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 - 0.08 is up to 17 times more likely to be killed in a single-vehicle crash than a teen that hasn't been drinking. At BACs of 0.08 - 0.10, the fatality risks are even higher—up to 52 times more likely to be killed.

From a risk management perspective, teens’ perceptions vs. behaviors are an important factor. Chris Mullen, director of technology research at State Farm, said academic research noted that the consequences of texting while driving can be as severe as drunk driving. In addition, published research to this effect appears to have little influence on teens because the 2012 survey results were virtually unchanged from a similar 2010 State Farm survey.

From an insurer’s perspective, parents’ influence is an important element when determining a teen’s overall DWD risk.

For example, teens who have a learner's permit are more than twice as likely as those who already have a license to report that they talk very often with their parents about driving (46 percent vs. 22 percent). Yet the survey revealed a sharp decline in parent/teen communications about driving after the teen receives their driver's license. This is despite the fact that the first year after receiving a license brings the highest lifetime crash risk.

“The conversation should not end when teens get their license,” said Chris Mullen, Director of Technology Research at State Farm. “Through this survey and other teen driver research, we know that ongoing parental involvement in the learning process is key to keeping teen drivers safe behind the wheel.”

In addition, parents are less worried about their own children driving, especially if they are affected by strong graduated driver licensing laws, according to a survey conducted last Fall by Allstate.

Indeed, teens’ driving habits may have their origins at home: According to the State Farm survey, teens who refrained from texting while driving were more likely to have frequent talks with their parents about safe driving.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Digital Insurance content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access