Almost two-thirds of adults use a cell phone while driving with kids in the car, and one-third text, according to a new survey.

The research was conducted by experts in the Training, Research and Education for Driving Safety (TREDS) program at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

In 2011, there were about 3,300 deaths and 400,000 injuries nationwide as a result of crashes due to distracted driving. Currently, the number one cause of driver distraction collisions in California is the use of cell phones.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrated that mobile phoning, texting and even emailing is common while driving among Americans.

Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, said:

“Studies have shown that phoning and driving increases the risk of crashes four-fold, with hands-free and handheld devices equally dangerous; this is the same as driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) at the legal limit of .08. Texting increases this risk eight to 16 times. A key initiative for the TREDS program and goal of the survey is to understand distracted driving behavior and work on strategies to improve road safety.”

A previous report showed that sending text messages and driving are a potentially fatal combination. However, using cell phones while driving is not the only problem, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) revealed.

“Anything from drinking coffee to managing children can take your mind off the road at a critical moment. Most drivers are distracted at one time or another. However, minimizing distractions in your own driving can prevent injury and save lives,” said John Antillon, CHP border division assistant chief.

The online survey, referred to as the Adult Cell Phone Survey, examined the driving habits of residents between the ages of 30 and 64 who were living in San Diego County and was conducted February 8, 2013 through March 31, 2013.

An anonymous questionnaire was used to observe people’s perspectives about using cell phones while on the road and to determine the amount of time that participants use phones to text or call others while driving.

The survey was completed by 715 volunteers – the majority were female (75%), two-thirds were married, and were 46-years-old on average.

The results of 512 subjects who drive about one to two hours each day and use cell phones for calling, texting, or other uses revealed that:

  • 30% ranged from sometimes to often, 53% rarely, 17% never
  • 56% drive with a handheld phone and 92% drive with a hands-free phone

Results of the 261 volunteers who drive with kids younger than 11-years-old in the car showed that:

  • 65% drive with a cell phone
  • 36% text

Results of the 193 participants with children 12 to 17-years-old in the car indicated that:

  • 63% use a phone while driving
  • 31% text

Adults with kids younger than 11-years-old in the car had a considerably increased likelihood to text and to talk on a handheld phone.

Thirty-one percent of subjects reported that they feel compelled to answer work-related calls while driving.

The findings emphasize the dangerous behavior of adults driving distracted, Hill pointed out, particularly when kids are in the car, exposing themselves as well as the kids at a higher risk of a collision.

Hill said:

“Moreover, employers should be aware that encouraging workers to initiate and receive calls while driving on the job is putting their employees at risk and exposing their companies to potential liability.”

Previous studies have demonstrated that the leading source of information for adolescent drivers is their parents, explained Freddy Santos, corporate relations manager with Allstate.

“When adults choose safe driving habits over distractions, it reinforces to teens, children and California’s new and future drivers the importance of driving safely,” Santos concluded.

The research was supported by Allstate Insurance Company.

Written by Sarah Glynn