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Pew Internet and American Life Project: Teens and distracted driving

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By the very nature of their youth, teen drivers have little experience on the road. They also have a great comfort with and reliance on cell phones and other electronic devices, which have become a serious concern as a cause of distracted driving.

A 2009 paper by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, “Teens and Distracted Driving,” focuses on the rate of cell phone use while driving among American teenagers. The paper was based on a survey of youth aged 12 to 18 in four U.S. cities that was conducted over the summer of 2009.

The study’s key findings include:

  • 75% of all American teens now own a cell phone and 66% use their phones to send or receive text messages. Older teens are more likely to have cell phones and use text messages.
  • Of all American teen ages 16 to 17, 26% have texted while driving and 43% have talked on a cell phone while driving.
  • Teens who text are more likely than those who don’t to be a passenger of a distracted driver; 40% of all teens in the sample have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone. Older teens report a higher rate of this likelihood.
  • In addition to texting, other sources of driver distraction are the usage of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and other smartphone applications.

Tags: cars, safety, technology, mobile tech

    Writer: | Last updated: December 11, 2009

    Citation: Madden, Mary; et al. "Teens and Distracted Driving," Pew Internet , November, 2009,

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the Pew Internet and American Life Project study titled "Teens and Distracted Driving."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the issue-related Reuters article titled "U.S. Teens Ignore Laws Against Texting While Driving."

    1. If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.