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Driving distracted

Although 96 percent of drivers polled in a new AAA study said texting behind the wheel is a serious threat to safety, around 26 percent admitted to sending an electronic message while driving last month. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

New drivers are taking heed of warnings about texting and cellphone use behind the wheel, but many adults still can’t seem to put down their devices while driving.

Adult drivers age 25-39 lead the nation in cellphone use on the road, according to new research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Around 82 percent reported using a phone while driving last month and 43 percent reported doing so fairly often or regularly.

The youngest drivers age 16-18 reported among the lowest regular phone use in the car at 20 percent. Only the 60-74 and 75-plus age groups reported lower regular use.

“It’s noteworthy that the young novice drivers are using their phones while driving less than older drivers since, given their inexperience, they are especially susceptible to distracted driving crashes,” according to a statement by Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

However, Kissinger noted that it is still a problem that teenage drivers are likely to begin using their phones on the road more often as they become comfortable with driving.

Text messaging and email use lags behind phone calls, but more than a quarter of drivers reported sending a text while driving last month, according to the report.

Once again, drivers age 25-39 lead the pack with 45 percent admitting to texting and driving. The 19-24 group reported texting most regularly at 11 percent.

Minnesota law allows drivers to talk on a phone while driving except for school bus drivers and people under 18 with provisional licenses or instruction permits. But it is illegal for all Minnesota drivers to “compose, read or send electronic messages or access the Internet” while a vehicle is moving or in traffic — including while stopped in traffic or at a stop light.

A similar law went into effect last year in Wisconsin banning all cellphone use for drivers with instruction permits and probationary licenses. Texting and Internet use also is illegal for all drivers on Wisconsin roads.

Distracted driving is a factor in nearly a quarter of all crashes in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Office of Traffic Safety. As many as 70 people are killed and 350 seriously injured each year as a result.

But OTS says those numbers are likely much higher, as it can be difficult for law enforcement to determine distracted driving was a factor in a crash.

Although two-thirds of drivers admitted to using a cellphone behind the wheel last month, 89 percent of motorists listed other drivers’ cellphone use as a serious threat to safety, according to AAA.

Around 96 percent of drivers agreed that texting and driving poses a serious threat.

The survey polled 2,325 licensed drivers who reported driving in the past 30 days.

The results are part of AAA’s 2013 Traffic Safety Culture Index.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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