Older, experienced drivers who text may be an overlooked threat in NY

New York’s texting laws establish the harshest penalties for young drivers, but research suggests texting is more dangerous for experienced older drivers.

Distracted driving is a significant problem among young drivers across the U.S., including those in New York City. According to CBS News, drivers under age 20 suffer more deadly distraction-related car crashes than drivers in any other age group. Given these statistics, many people may believe distracted driving is primarily a concern for younger drivers. New research, however, suggests that distractions such as texting are actually more dangerous for older and more experienced drivers.

A distinct type of distraction

In a recent study, Wayne State University researchers had 50 participants of various ages perform a driving simulation. Researchers used one hand to steer while composing texts with the other hand. Overall, half of the participants drifted out of their lanes at least one time. Surprisingly, researchers found that age could predict a driver's risk of doing so:

  • Participants between ages 18 and 24 had the lowest risk; just 25 percent of these drivers crossed into other lanes.
  • Among participants between ages 25 and 34, the proportion of drivers who left their lanes rose to 40 percent.
  • A significant 80 percent of drivers between ages 35 and 44 drifted from their lanes at least once.
  • All drivers between ages 45 and 59 failed to stay in the appropriate lane for the entire simulation.

Researchers think this may be the case because older drivers must spend more time looking at their phones when texting. Texting may also create a fairly unique type of distraction that older drivers are less able to handle, despite their experience. For instance, the cognitive demands associated with simultaneously texting and driving may be overwhelming for older adults.

Harmful age-based biases

The study's researchers note that these results are surprising, since many people believe texting is less risky for experienced drivers. Safety campaigns and state laws directed at young or novice drivers reflect this widespread bias.

For example, in New York, drivers who are under age 21 face strict penalties for texting while driving. According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, a first-time conviction results in a 120-day license or learner's permit suspension. Drivers who have two convictions within ten months face license revocation lasting for one year. In contrast, adult drivers only are subject to fines and the addition of license points, even after multiple offenses.

The study findings suggest that texting is dangerous for every driver and may become more risky with age. Even if texting is less widely reported among older drivers, when these drivers do text, the consequences may be much more severe. This means that texting laws focusing primarily on younger drivers may leave motorists in danger of distraction-related accidents.

Accountability for distracted driving

Distracted drivers of any age may be found negligent if they cause other people harm because of their inattention. People who have been injured because of a distracted driver's recklessness should consider speaking with an attorney. An attorney may be able to explain a victim's rights and potential means of recourse.

Keywords: distracted driving, car accidents, New York