Are so many people giving birth while driving and texting that most of the deaths are canceled out?

Please don’t text and drive.

Secondarily, please don’t spread bogus fact memes. Today’s fast-paced world of online journalism, blah blah blah. (Recently I, who am not a journalist, had a blog post rejected — no hard feelings — by an editor who suggested I “find some studies or talk to experts or something” to beef up the piece. Of course, I appreciate a site that wants real facts. Maybe someone could, like, hire a journalist.)

Today’s example: Mother Jones. They have a piece on the web site that claims, “In fact, the leading cause of death for teenage drivers is now texting, not drinking, with nearly a dozen teens dying each day in a texting-related car crash.”

The link is to a May Newsday article with no links to a study, a journal name, etc. (It’s beyond relevant, but the “nearly a dozen” number seems to come from Newsday‘s “more than 3,000.” Maths, anyone?) Then, at the end of the article are some dramatic graphics, one of which is this:


That number — 385 cell-phone-related fatal crashes per year — is a government count, not an estimate, so probably an undercount. It is for people of all ages. So there are “nearly a dozen” teens dying each day, but only 385 people of all ages per year. I guess a lot people giving birth while texting and driving leads to a net death count of 385? Maths.

Anyway, follow the links down a rabbit hole of local TV news stories and you might get to a hospital news release page — which links to the news stories. There seems to be no study published. The doctor quoted and his students (congrats to the undergrad lead author) presented a poster on how many teens report ever texting while driving. Then maybe someone did some extrapolations to deaths based on the lab studies showing texting while driving is really dangerous, but I can’t find the calculations. And anywhere we know they’re wrong.

There were about 82 fatal crashes per day on average in 2011. Don’t you think we’d hear about it if one-in-seven of those were caused by teens texting and driving?

Here are my previous posts on texting, starting with the most recent: Cellphones don’t kill people. Cars kill people.

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