The other day I argued that focus on the “texting-white-driving epidemic” diverts attention from the dangers of driving generally. Here’s a different direction.
The contemporary fascination with using data to tell stories runs up against the need to tell stories in the length of a tweet or in one chart, sometimes resulting in data-focused news that uninforms people rather than informing them.
So, I may not be able to tell the whole teen car death story in one chart, but I can show that you can’t reduce the whole teen car death story to a texting epidemic in one chart (source).
The rate at which teen drivers are involved in fatal crashes has fallen 55% in the last 10 years, faster than the rate for all other age groups (which are also falling). This is part of a long term trend, which has accelerated in the last 10 years. Between 2002 and 2008 alone, the number of text messages sent in the US increased from almost none to more than 100 million per month.* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, reported in Pediatrics, 45% of teens say they texted while driving in the past 30 days — compared with only 10% who said they drove when they had been drinking. An astonishing 12% of teens said they text while driving every day.**
Far be it from me to decide what the public pays attention to. However, we should understand that in this era of distraction there is an opportunity cost to focusing on any one thing. For example (source):
Incidentally, there is a possible clue in that Pediatrics article as to why accident rates aren’t rising due to all this texting. The teens who text while driving are much more likely to engage in other risky behaviors: driving drunk, riding with drunk drivers, and not wearing seatbelts. So texting deaths may to some extent be displacing deaths those same teens would have caused in other ways.
Follow this series of posts at the texting tag.
*Thank linked paper argues that texting is contributing to the increase in distracted driving deaths, based on cellphone subscription rates and texts sent per month. It’s plausible but not entirely convincing, because I have doubts about the measure of distracted driving deaths (which rely on local police reports, fluctuate wildly, and include lots of labels, including “carelessness”). They don’t analyze the trend in total traffic deaths.
**This fact may be the source of the myth that 11 teens die from texting and driving every day (less than 8 die daily from all motor vehicle accidents), because someone got carried away by lab studies showing texting while driving was as dangerous as drinking and driving and just extrapolated.