Teen girls are twice as likely as boys to text or talk on cell phones while driving, according to a new study, though boys have their own issues as new drivers.
The results come from a new study by AAA and the University of North Carolina that placed video cameras in cars of 50 families to document how parents teach kids to drive and how kids react when the parents aren't in the car.
Cameras recorded whenever the car made a sudden swerve, brake or acceleration, and almost half the time, the driver had just looked away from the road for some reason.
Even with teen drivers knowing cameras were watching, nearly 7 percent were caught on tape using an electronic device, and more than one in 10 consistently used gadgets while driving, say researchers at the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.
Among the other highlights of the study:
The results come as individual states take different routes to combat distracted driving – some banning texting while driving.
New York State requires drivers using a cell phone to use a hands-free device. A bill to criminalize texting while driving in Florida has been proposed in the Legislature, but never passed.
For parents, there's reason to ride along with teens while driving: Distractions fell significantly when mom or dad are in the car. Avoid squabbles, though: Drivers were six times as likely to have a serious incident like swerving, hard breaking or fast acceleration during loud conversation.
The University of South Florida is working along similar research lines, landing a major federal grant to recruit thousands of volunteer drivers and videotape them behind the wheel. Early results of that study could come this summer.
A 2006 study in Virginia videotaped drivers and found cell phones were the most common and dangerous distraction, but not the only one. Drivers were also recorded shaving, putting on makeup, flossing their teeth, putting in contacts and eating with or without utensils.
Using a phone isn't necessarily the most dangerous activity, according to Achilleas Kourtellis, a researcher at USF helping run the cameras-in-cars project there.
"Talking on the phone by itself is not the biggest problem because you can still look at the road," Kourtellis said. "Texting is the big one, because it requires long times when you take your eyes off the road."
Texting can take a driver's eyes off the road for the length of a football field if she or he is traveling at 55 mph, the Virginia study showed.