Adults Out-Text Teens While Driving

Adults are more likely than teenagers to send or read text messages while driving a vehicle, a study by the Pew Research Center found.

About 47 percent of adults who use the text-messaging function on their cell phones said they have read or sent messages while driving. That compares with 34 percent of texting teens, ages 16 and 17.

"There's been a lot of focus on young drivers, and for good reasons," says Mary Madden, senior research specialist at Pew. "But this research provides an important reminder that adults are setting a bad example."

Seven states and the District of Columbia ban all cell-phone use by drivers, and 28 states prohibit texting while driving, according to a report by the Governors Highway Safety Assn. The U.S. Senate is to vote on legislation banning the practice.

An Official Website

The mobile-phone industry has taken its own steps to discourage use of wireless handsets while driving. In October, wireless trade group CTIA and the National Safety Council started a website,, that encourages teen drivers not to text and drive.

CTIA this month also started distributing ads to 5,000 U.S. radio stations encouraging people not to use the phone while on the road. Verizon Wireless and AT&T (T), the largest U.S. wireless service providers, have ad campaigns aimed at discouraging texting and driving. "It's more than just teenagers, and the Pew study speaks to that," says John Walls, CTIA's vice-president for public affairs. "It's an activity that has no age boundaries. It's not surprising but disappointing that adults are texting while driving." Verizon Wireless is owned by Verizon Communications (VZ) and Vodafone Group (VOD).

Focus groups have shown that many teens have seen their parents and older siblings send or read messages while piloting a vehicle, Madden says.

Not Just Kids

Pew's findings may change the way opponents of the practice approach the issue. "It's a reminder we need to apply a broad brush to this problem and not just focus on teen drivers," Madden says.

In October, U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting federal employees from texting while driving on official business or while using government-supplied equipment. Even talk show host Oprah Winfrey has joined the crusade. Her website encourages consumers to sign "Oprah's No Phone Zone Pledge" promising not to text while driving.

Several small businesses are trying to capitalize on texting bans. A downloadable application called Textecution, developed jointly by Jonathan Young Enterprises and eLYK innovation, disables texting if it detects that the phone is traveling faster than 10 miles per hour.

Pew, based in Washington, conducted a nationwide phone survey of 2,252 American adults between Apr. 29 and May 30. The survey included 744 interviews conducted via cell phone. The margin of error is 2 percentage points in the full sample and 3 percentage points among cell-phone users.